WISCONSIN — Reporters at the Marquette Tribune wanted tooffer a look inside Milwaukee County’s election, and they ended up withthe district attorney knocking on their door.
Staffers of Marquette University’s student newspaper responded to widespreadrumors of voter fraud in the state with investigative reporting that includeda survey of 1,000 Marquette students. The nonscientific survey, conductedin person and over the telephone, guaranteed participants anonymity.
After a Nov. 13 article reported that 174 respondents to the surveysaid they voted more than once in the presidential election, prosecutorsin Milwaukee County sought the newspaper’s notes.
Wisconsin case law protects reporters’ notes unless they are the lastresort for law enforcement officials seeking relevant information in anongoing criminal investigation. The state has no statutory shield law.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahoney visited the Tribuneoffice Nov. 16 with the intent of talking to reporters and examining theirnotes for an ongoing investigation into the rumors of voting fraud.
Dean of Communications William Elliott and Tribune adviser MichaelHeinz denied Mahoney entrance to the office and refused to grant him accessto the notes, which reporters said would yield little information to authoritiesbecause they include nothing more than tally marks. Tribune staff membersdid not record the names of students polled.
Neither Mahoney nor Milwaukee County District Attorney Michael McCannwill comment on the interactions with university officials or studentsin the case.
Since his visit to the newspaper, Mahoney has requested a descriptionof the students’ methods and questions used in the survey. Heinz said thenewspaper complied because the information had already been published.
The district attorney’s office has not issued a subpoena in the case,but Heinz said the newspaper would fight it if issued. Elliott said thecollege would support that cause.
“On the advice of our counsel, we would take the case to court,” Elliottsaid.
Despite the inconvenience of the case, Elliott said it is teaching Tribunestudents a valuable lesson about their roles and responsibilities as journalists.
“The student press in Wisconsin should know that they have obligationsto their sources and to their profession that can place them in difficultsituations,” he said. “They should know that they have the right to refuseaccess to information.”