National Press Club

S.C. reporter plans to join fellow ‘jailbird’ journalists in calling for greater press freedom

June 1, 2015 | By Varun Saxena | vsaxenaster@gmail.com

A South Carolina reporter who went to jail due to his reporting in one the largest corruption prosecutions in U.S. history plans to discuss the need for stronger legal protections for journalists at a National Press Club forum tonight at 6 p.m. in the Murrow Room.

Tickets are $5 for Press Club members and $10 for nonmembers and can be purchased by clicking here.

The historic event, involving a large majority of American reporters who have gone to jail in protection of their sources, is open to the public and is sponsored in part by the Club’s Journalism Institute and the NPC's Freedom of the Press Committee.

In 1990, Schuyler Kropf, a political reporter with The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., refused a Justice Department demand to testify during the trial of South Carolina state Sen. J.M. “Bud” Long. As part of Kropf’s coverage of the sting operation dubbed “Operation Lost Trust” he had reported on Long’s acceptance of $2,000 from an undercover FBI informant in return for support of a horse track-betting bill.

Kropf and three other local journalists argued the First Amendment protected from having to testify.

“I remember my quote at the time was something to the effect of ‘if we are forced to testify, then any reporter’s notebook in South Carolina is an open notebook,’” Kropf said in an email interview.

At the request of the government, U.S. District Court Judge Falcon B. Hawkins held Kropf and his colleagues in jail for eight hours over two days, charging them with contempt of court. Finally Judge Hawkins relented, although the contempt of court charge stood, Kropf said.

Ultimately, the government didn’t need the journalists’ testimony. Long, 16 additional South Carolina state legislators and 10 others were convicted following the sting operation.

No other journalists have been jailed in South Carolina since the incident, according to Kropf.

“I do feel though that the protections for journalism in the state of South Carolina remain weak,” Kropf said. “From the now more prevalent use of dash cams, to requesting simple information from government, the response is too often to say ‘no’ because it is easier for people to say ‘no’ than ‘yes.’ State, local and federal government is not trained to say ‘yes’; there must be a change."

“We as reporters must do a better job insisting that the public sector be trained to provide what we ask,” Knopf added.

Tonight's event is scheduled to be moderated by the Club’s 1991 National Freedom of the Press Award recipient Brian Karem.

The symposium is sponsored by the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, the First Amendment Coalition, ExposeFacts.Org, the Maryland Delaware District of Columbia Press Association, the Institute for Public Accuracy, Western Journalism Center, U.S. Justice Foundation, and the Free Speech Coalition.