In what is being hailed as a victory for journalists, a state judge has ruled that South Carolina blogger Will Folks, founder of the Fits News political opinion news site, doesn’t have to give up his anonymous sources, Columbia-based newspaper The State reported.
The anonymous source issue came up because Folks is being sued for libel by Kenny Bingham, former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Folks claimed in 2014 and 2015 stories that Bingham, then a member of the state house, would be indicted, the Associated Press reported. Bingham retired from the state house in 2016.
In an e-mail to iMediaEthics, Folks wrote, “It’s odd that this case has become all about confidential sources because 90 percent of his lawsuit is tied to material that was provided to this website on the record by a source who not only gave us their name, but provided us with a copy of the evidence they were submitting.”
Further, he argued that “the off-the-record sources this ex-lawmaker seeks are ancillary to his complaint – which is why we’ve always felt this was a fishing expedition, not a legitimate defamation claim.” Folks pointed to his June blogpost providing links and documents.
“My attorneys and I are going to continue fighting this frivolous suit,” Folks wrote to iMediaEthics.
By phone, Bingham’s lawyer John Parker told iMediaEthics, “We respectfully disagree with the ruling and this is just another step in the process.”
Fits News uploaded a copy of Judge William Keesley’s ruling, in which the judge ruled he wouldn’t hold Folks in contempt or fine or jail him and that Folks is considered “a member of the press.”
“Folks has the ability to provide the plaintiff with the names of the sources ordered to to be revealed by Judge Kelly,” a South Carolina judge who previously ordered Folks to reveal his sources, Keesley wrote. “He has a true choice. He has reasons not to comply, and he stated the reasons for his refusal.” Those reasons, Keesley explained, were because of promises to confidential sources.
That said, in the forthcoming defamation trial, Bingham’s lawyer can argue there are “no individual sources” for the claims he is suing over, the State reported.
After the ruling, Folks blogged that he was “tremendously grateful to judge Keesley for seeing the bigger picture in this matter. His ruling wasn’t entirely flattering to me or to this website, but he did an excellent job carving out protections for traditional and non-traditional journalists alike.”
Disclosure: Ten years ago as an intern, the author of this report worked on the copy editing desk of The State.