Brian J. Karem, the reporter who drew fast attention for accusing the White House of “inflaming” sentiments against the news media, doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to press freedoms: He once went to jail to protect an anonymous source.
In 1990, when Karem was 29 years old and a San Antonio TV reporter, he was jailed for refusing to give up the names of three people who helped him land an interview with a jailed murder suspect. During the interview, suspect Harry Hernandez confessed to killing the officer but said it was self-defense, according to a book Karem wrote about the case called “Shield the Source.”
Karem told the National Press Club in 2015 that he was released after two weeks when two of his sources came forward, and a third moved from Texas. (The Los Angeles Times said in 1990 that the source who left Texas released Karem from his promise of confidentiality.)
“I won’t wear orange to this day because of my experience,” Karem told the Press Club, referring to his jail garb.
He received the National Press Club’s Freedom of the Press Award for his ordeal.
Here is the description of “Shield the Source”: “When police officer Gary Williams is gunned down in the streets of San Antonio, reporter Brian Karem’s sources help him obtain the sole interview with Henry Hernandez, who confesses to killing the officer, but swears it was self-defense. Karem is subpoenaed, but refuses to reveal his sources. Cited for contempt, he becomes the first reporter in more than a decade to be jailed for protecting a confidential source.”
The New York Times wrote in 1990 that Karem “appears to be the first journalist in more than a decade to face prolonged imprisonment over the issue of confidentiality. First Amendment experts said the case could eventually redefine the rights and privileges of journalists by prompting the first major review of the subject by the Supreme Court in almost 20 years.”
In another notable case of a reporter refusing to testify, in 2005, a Times journalist, Judith Miller, went to jail rather than testify about one of her confidential sources.
Karem became a sensation in news media and political circles Tuesday when he interrupted Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders by interjecting while she chided the news media for using anonymous sources and criticized a retracted CNN story that led to the resignation of three CNN staffers.
“You’re inflaming everybody, right here, right now with those words,” Karem said. “Any one of us [reporters] are replaceable, and any one of us, if we don’t get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel, or not read us. You have been elected to serve for four years at least — there’s no option other than that!”
Karem is the executive editor of The Sentinel Newspapers, two newspapers in the Washington, DC, suburbs that have a staff of 35 and 10,000 subscribers. He later tweeted: “So, when we are wrong we correct ourselves but when has POTUS ever done that? We are not FAKE news.”
Huckabee Sanders said in the briefing: “I disagree completely. First of all, if anything has been inflamed, it’s the dishonesty that often takes place by the news media.”