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Chron takes hits for protecting Balco source

The Chron is under fire for protecting a source in the Balco steroid story who leaked grand jury testimony to the paper to help his clients. The source, attorney Troy Ellerman, insisted in court papers that he wasn’t the leaker and that the publicity was hurting his clients’ chances of getting a fair trial. Ellerman has now pleaded guilty, and the Chron reporters who used his leaks, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, are no longer facing jail for refusing to identify their source.

Tim Rutten of the LA Times called the conduct of the two reporters “sleazy and contemptable.” Rutten writes:

Slate’s Jack Shafer asks these questions:

And criticism also is coming from within the Chron, according to Will Harper of SF Weekly, who said veteran reporter Tom Abate questioned during a newsroom celebration whether Williams and Fainaru-Wada were “used” by their source.

In response to the criticism, Williams told E&P:

For the record, neither Bronstein or Williams will say whether Ellerman was their source. Fainaru-Wada has declined all comment.

Bronstein told E&P that t is important to look at source motives, but said judgments need to take all aspects of a story into account. “In my experience as a reporter and an editor, sources have motives,” he said. “And they range from good to bad. People need to, in general, make sure they consider everything.” (Sept. 21 photo of Williams (center left) and Fainaru-Wada (center right) by Darryl Bush of the Chronicle.)

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