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Freedom of the Press: Nashville Journalist on Trial

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The Tennessee Star released description of a large portion of the transgender Covenant School (Nashville) shooter’s Audrey Hale’s writings on June 5. The article by Tom Pappert was a summary of “almost 4 dozen images of notebook pages written by Hale.”

The shooting took place on March 27, 2023 where six people including three young children were killed at the school. Hale was killed by police and left behind several notebooks of writings. Several news outlets including the Tennessee Star had sued for release of the writing stating it was important to understand what the killer’s motivation was. The FBI and Nashville Metro had refused to release the writings.

The case on the release of writing was being overseen by Tennessee Chancery Court Judge l’Ashea Myles. After the article on the writings, she ordered the CEO and editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Star Michael Patrick Leahy to appear in court for a show cause hearing to explain why the publishing of the notebook review “does not violate the Orders of this Court subjecting them to contempt proceedings and sanctions.”

Mr. Leahy’s attorney Daniel A. Horwitz explained that Mr. Leahy was not the author of the article and that Tennessee has a shield law for protecting reporters. The judge did not appear to be persuaded by these arguments. The result of this hearing could have been the jailing of Mr. Leahy. Instead the judge did not jail Mr. Leahy, but also did not dismiss the charge. This means that Mr. Leahy’s situation is still undecided.

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It appears that the judge was not even aware of the leak until a local Nashville TV station WSMV Channel 4 alerted her to it. They reported that “However, Judge Myles was unaware of the supposed leak, until WSMV4 Investigates’ Stacey Cameron called the court asking for a reaction to the leak, wanting to know if she was considering holding the Star or anyone else in contempt.”

This trial is about the freedom of press to publish true information that it obtains. It appears that WSMV Channel 4 is intentionally responsible for the legal jeopardy of a fellow journalist, since their question on holding someone in contempt could be seen as leading the judge.

Update to explain that it was a description of the journal not the journal itself.

Rocco Maglio
Rocco Magliohttps://www.roccomaglio.com
Rocco Maglio is a co-founder of the Hernando Sun. He grew up in Brooksville and graduated from Hernando High. He then worked in technology for starting in the early 1990s. He was fascinated by the potential of the Internet even though at the time there were not graphical browsers. He recently earned a Master of Science in Information Technology with a specialization in Cybersecurity.
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