Justice not served
by COLLEEN GLEESON
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on October 6, 2006 | PRINT

The longest prison sentences yet have been administered in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) steroid scandal. The prosecuted could spend the next year and a half in prison though their crimes have nothing to do with selling, supplying or using illegal drugs, cheating in an athletic event or perjuring themselves in front of a grand jury. Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, co-authors of "Game of Shadows," the book that blew open the steroid scandal and exposed the extent of corruption, are headed to prison for their investigative journalism.

In order to adequately support their accusations, Fainaru-Wada and Williams used information gained from confidential testimonies. The federal government is demanding that the authors reveal their sources. True to journalistic ethics, the two men have chosen to be incarcerated rather than compromise the identity of the testifiers. In an ironic twist of fate, it seems as though the two whistle-blowers will endure the worst effects of the trials. Just as the others incriminated by their actions are flourishing in society, the two men whose only crime is valuing justice over the letter of the law are headed to prison.

Victor Conte, the owner of BALCO, is hardly worse for the wear because of the trial. The man whose vision was to "help athletes cheat safely and effectively" served three months in prison after his conviction and is back in business. Now operating under another name, Conte still sells steroids and credits the entire scandal with increasing brand awareness of his product.

Greg Anderson, Bonds' trainer, should have been released from prison by the time this paper is printed. Anderson served three months after his conviction, but returned to prison for 15- and 30-day stays for withholding information. The government will probably not pursue an additional sentence.

Though not actually convicted of any crime, Bonds was exposed for his steroid use and connection to BALCO in "Game of Shadows." He continued to play for the Giants this season, earning an estimated $18 million over the year while hitting 26 balls out of the park in pursuit of Hank Aaron's all time record of 755 career homeruns.

So next summer while Conte continues to profit off of his products, Anderson returns to training his athletes and Bonds breaks one of the greatest records of all time, Fainaru-Wada and Williams may still be serving time in prison. Justice, it seems, is not always fair.

More than simply seeming unjust, the government's action will have extensive repercussions in the world of investigative journalism. If people with firsthand knowledge of corruption and injustice are denied the opportunity to blow the whistle in total anonymity, existing injustices will remain hidden. Journalists now have access to secret information because they can extend confidentiality. In the future, such an assurance will come at the price of jail time. Silencing whistle-blowers does not make problems go away. Fainaru-Wada and Williams could have walked away from the information they discovered and been free today. Instead, they chose to expose the corruption and cheating of a company and its clients to the world. As a result of calling for justice, the two men are now imprisoned.

It is not fair and it is not prudent, but it is how the system works. Amidst the negative stereotypes commonly associated with journalists, two men felt pursuing true justice and upholding promises were worth going to jail.

So Conte is becoming wealthy, Anderson will soon be back at work, Bonds may soon be in the history books, yet Fainaru-Wada and Williams may spend more time in jail than any of the other men they exposed.

Is this what America considers justice?

Views: 641