Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Investor attempts to compel journalist to identify confidential source (2019) (pressfreedomtracker.us)
26 points by uptown 2 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments

What a ride. Also this is from 2019.

Basically in 2017 a confidential source CS told the editor for Fast Company FC that some random investor Shervin Pishevar VC was arrested by London police in May 2017 for suspicion of sexual assault. VC then confirmed the arrest to FC.

FC published an article on this in late 2017 using a police report provided by CS. However the report turned out to be fabricated, and I guess London police dragged their feet on authenticating it before the FC article was published.

VC in 2019 subpoenas FC for docs related and to try to get the name of CS. FC complies mostly but doesn't give up the name of CS on principle.

Basically, VC admitted to being arrested for something, but FC received a fabricated report from CS, not the real one? Wild.

It's hard to know who is really in the right. At first glance this is VC trying to suppress press freedom, but if the report was fabricated, maybe VC is morally unblameworthy in seeking the report via the threat of legal action. Perhaps it depends on the delta between what really happened/was published/the real police report and the fabricated report.

>Also this is from 2019.

While the original article was from 2019, there are updates from February 18th and October 3rd this year.

Case close due to lack of evidence is certainly not the same as

> VC did something and admitted to it and admitted to being arrested for it

Oh yeah fair enough, I'll edit. VC did admit to being arrested by London Police according to the account, but who knows why they were arrested.

Journalists don't get to be some impenetrable wall defense to slander if the source is lying and forging documents.

Hmm I don't know, some protection exists per NY law according to the article. On one hand it doesn't sound like FC waited for the report to be authenticated, on the other hand who knows if London Police would ever do that, I don't know. I think it's fair to have the protection of this law or legal framework if a reporter has a reasonable belief that what they're reporting is accurate. But maybe it's a strict liability sort of deal, where it doesn't matter what the reporter believed but rather a factual question of whether the reporter published things that ended up being untrue, regardless of belief.

> Hmm I don't know, some protection exists per NY law according to the article.

Apparently not enough protection given that the judge has given an order for the source to be revealed.


Apparently the standard here for piercing reporter's privilege is pretty simple:

“The qualified [reporter’s] privilege can be overcome only upon a clear and specific showing by the party seeking disclosure that the information is: (1) highly material and relevant to its action; (2) necessary or critical to the claim; and (3) not obtainable from other sources.”

My takeaway from this is that if you think it's likely that a statement you are making to a reporter will be the central subject of a legal action (e.g. if you want to slander someone to a reporter), it is not a safe move.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the investor will prevail overall. But it does seem like the confidential source will have to defend the truthfulness of the material they provided in court. IMO, this is not an entirely unreasonable outcome.

I'm surprised that journalists wouldn't go to more effort to erase data like that. If I had a source whose confidentiality I cared about I would erase records like that after every communication.

Erasing physical records doesn't stop you from being deposed as to the identity of that person.

While perhaps you could say that you don't know their name, you would be pushing the limits of believability if you were to say you remembered no identifying details about the person - what communication method(s) you used, their appearance, their aliases, email addresses or domains, etc.

Right, and there are remedies for people who refuse lawful orders to give up information (contempt of court, which means you're jailed and potentially fined until you comply).

If you properly disposed of records there'd be no way to tell you're lying about who it is. Especially if construed it in such a way as to open the possibility your source was impersonating someone else with access to the same information.

> there'd be no way to tell you're lying about who it is.

Lying to a court that you recall nothing about the person who contacted you with information about a public figure is something that I'll leave for you to discuss with your lawyer.

You might want to have them discuss with you the repercussions of getting caught. Something about perjury.

It feels like there would be some law to get you, the journalist, instead. Maybe something along the lines of "obstruction of justice".

Needs a 2019 tag. The title is also leaving out some very important details, namely that the source forged a police report to give to the journalist. The evidence IMO points to Peshivar being the target of a deliberate smear campaign.

TBH the fact that this is upvoted here with this misleading title makes this submission very suspect IMO. The Wikipedia article on Shervin Peshivar has more details.

There's an October 3rd 2020 update further down the page.

>A federal judge for the Southern District of New York ruled on Oct. 3, 2020, that Fast Company senior news editor Marcus Baram must reveal his confidential source within two weeks.

Looks like Peahivar admitted to at least the arrest. Unclear if the arrest was for something totally different than the fabricated report states, or something very similar. And who knows why the report was fabricated, though I don't think it's right to fabricate a report, perhaps there's a "more honest" explanation than someone making this all up wholesale (like fabricating some minor details to maintain anonymity type of reasoning, I don't know). The relevant quote:

Pishevar confirmed his arrest in a statement to Fast Company.

There could potentially be an even less honest explanation. Perhaps the complaint was entirely vexatious, perhaps the person who laid it is the same person who fabricated the documents and sent them to FC.

Yeah that's right. I think we'd need more information to do anything more than speculate at this point. Going further, I feel like fabricating a police report to some degree comes with a presumption of moral blameworthiness. That is, all else being equal, I would tend to draw the inference that the fabricator is up to no good.

If you scroll down a magistrate ruled a couple weeks ago that the journalist must disclose their source.

Pishevar's conduct doesn't really have anything to do with the story. The issue is about the circumstances under which a journalist can be compelled to reveal their sources, and how that will effect the incentives for other sources on other issues to come forward with (actual) information that the public should know about.

Journalists should not protect their sources if they lie or fabricate information. Otherwise, it seems like the perfect loophole for committing slander and libel. Don't directly publish the information yourself, but instead convince a journalist to be a confidential source.

I think there is a pretty big line on the spectrum of "lying and fabricating," from reading/erasing a name on a report and lying about it to maintain anonymity (not morally blameworthy to an extent that the person shouldn't be protected, I don't think) and totally making up events to cast someone in a false light (very morally blameworthy). I don't think you can draw a bright line rule like "[j]ournalists should not protect their sources if they lie or fabricate information" because of this spectrum.

There is an update from oct 3rd, 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact