The Stand She Took
How an Emerald editor's gutsy decision to protect her sources frustrated authorities, rallied journalists, and helped change the law.
Annette Buchanan lies in bed, shaking and fighting back tears. Yesterday the 20-year-old was subpoenaed. Buchanan, the Oregon Daily Emerald's managing editor for just four weeks, was at work when she learned that she and three Emerald coworkers must appear in court on June 3, 1966. The district attorney has questions about Buchanan's recent article, "Students Condone Marijuana Use."
The next morning, Buchanan, likely sleepy from her restless night, slips on a high-necked blue dress. Usually her long brown hair flies free; today she pulls it back into a tight ponytail, her mother's suggestion to "get the right image across."
The third floor of the Lane County Courthouse is crowded with journalists when Buchanan appears shortly before 10:00 a.m. Her lawyer, Arthur Johnson '50, escorts her to the doors of the grand jury room. He can go no further; protocol forbids him from accompanying his client inside, leaving Buchanan to enter alone, the doors swinging shut behind her.
Buchanan is a University of Oregon junior majoring in journalism. At the Emerald, she makes $65 a month with the promise of a $20 raise come fall. Her horoscope in the day's newspaper: "Situations may put you in conflict with those that enforce the laws. Arguments will get you nowhere. Be amiable and discreet."
"Do you think the grand jury should be interested in apparent law violations on the campus involving drugs?" asks William Frye '53, '56, the Lane County district attorney known for his youthful ambition, pipe smoking, and impeccably tailored suits.
A week ago, on May 22, two disgruntled students approached Buchanan in the student union. They were unhappy with the Emerald's coverage of a public lecture by Sidney Cohen, a leading LSD authority who had spoken on campus about drugs and drug use. This was 1966 and, yes, this was infamously freewheeling Eugene, but Timothy Leary's iconic "turn on, tune in, drop out" speech was still a year away and recreational drug use remained a fringe activity.
The students had accused the Emerald of being "anti-marijuana," Buchanan recalled, and unwilling to "print the other side of the story."
She knew the charges were false, but was eager to address even misguided perceptions of bias. So she came up with the simple idea that would change her life: interview pot smokers and tell their story.
And with her editor's approval, that's precisely what she did. That same night, Buchanan spent two hours interviewing seven students who used marijuana. They advocated the "pleasurable sensation" of pot and shared their favorite ways to use it ("eat it, like in spaghetti sauce"). It was late when they dropped Buchanan off outside her Alder Street apartment. There, she stayed up half the night writing before destroying her notes.
* * *
"You know what pot laws are?" asks Frye, who atypically handled Buchanan's case rather than pass it on to his assistant.
"Yes," Buchanan replies.
"You think they're valid?"
"I don't think this applies at all."
"Applies for what?"
"I see no reason for that question."
"It is not up to you to determine the reason for the question. You just answer the question."
"Well, I am not going to."
* * *
That, of course, was exactly the problem. Frye wanted answers; it's why he subpoenaed Buchanan, her editor Phil Semas '67, former editor Charles Beggs '65, and former managing editor Bob Carl '66, MS '69, after reading Buchanan's article on the front page of the May 24 Emerald.
The same day Frye issued the subpoenas he took the unusual step of releasing a press statement including a photo of him holding the offending Emerald. In the release, he explained: "As long as [federal and state drug regulations] are on the books, the sellers and the users can expect to be prosecuted if we get the evidence"—and evidence was precisely what he wanted from the four students he called to the courthouse.
Semas, Beggs, and Carl were dismissed within hours of their testimony; they'd had little to do with the story and didn't know the sources. Buchanan, however, said she remembered at least five names, names she wouldn't be giving to the police.
"In the canons of ethics a newsman, a reporter, will not release his sources when they were given to him confidentially," she tells the jury. "This is an understood precept of journalism."
Understood, perhaps, but not legally protected. In 1966, exempting a reporter from answering questions posed by a legal official was a far cry from the protections enjoyed by today's journalists. Only 12 states offered so-called "shield" or "privilege" laws allowing journalists some level of security to keep their sources confidential. Oregon wasn't one of them.
"I don't know if you should need a grand jury to find out about drug use on campus," Buchanan continues in her testimony. "You can properly investigate and do it through the normal channels."
"Do you have any suggestions?" Frye asks.
"Go on campus. Sit around and look. It is not that hard. I think you know." She also suggests her inquisitor has previously used subpoenas to get people to cooperate with the city police.
"Apparently," Frye replies, "people who have been subpoenaed won't speak so we haven't lost much."
Buchanan's resolute silence, it seems, stymies the legal system. After just seven minutes, the grand jury concludes. Afterwards, Frye, Buchanan's lawyer, and circuit court judge Edward Leavy settle on a June 13 hearing, which results in a court order officially requesting Buchanan answer Frye's questions on June 15.
"I'm sorry," she says that day in front of the grand jury, once again reaffirming her commitment to keep her sources secret. "It's a confidence that I can't violate for the reasons that I gave."
With that, Annette Buchanan is charged with contempt of court. Her trial is scheduled for June 27. If convicted, she faces up to six months in jail.
* * *
In the days leading up to the trial, the nation's journalists rallied around Buchanan, a young woman many felt represented the best of their profession. They sought answers, including why Frye, a graduate of the UO's School of Journalism and an Emerald alumnus, ever filed those subpoenas in the first place. Or, as one newspaper pointedly asked, "Is the law an ass? Or is it Lane County District Attorney Bill Frye?"
It's true Frye lost the primary election for the Fourth District Congressional Seat the same day Buchanan's article was published. It's true the Emerald supported Charles Porter over Frye for that seat, citing the DA's questionable "blanket endorsement" of the Vietnam War effort. It's true Frye made frequent, often vehement anti-Buchanan public appearances during the case, which moved Buchanan's lawyer to call, if unsuccessfully, for a new trial. What's not so clear is whether a correlation ever existed between Frye's professional ambitions and Buchanan's summons to court. For his part, Frye would deny such allegations until his death in 1988. Throughout it all, the law stood by him.
"I never got caught up in that. It didn't matter," says Judge Leavy, who now sits for the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. "All the prosecutor has to be is right. If his motive is to prosecute somebody and enjoy it while they're doing it, it doesn't matter as long as they're right. And if they're wrong, it doesn't matter how reluctant they are. If they're wrong, they're wrong."
The June 1966 trial came early in Leavy's career; he was just 36. Still, he vividly recalls Buchanan's case.
"It went right to the interest of the newspaper reporter," he says. "Here you have a young lady who is a decent person, who is a student of journalism, who doesn't have any baggage of being any kind of a villain or self-promoter. What more ideal personality could you have from a political standpoint to advance your cause?"
The cause being to get Oregon its own shield law, a goal about which, perhaps not surprisingly, journalists had a lot to say.
Publications covering the trial ranged from the Emerald—which still listed Buchanan as managing editor and ran supportive editorials titled, among other things, "Some Questions for Mr. Frye"—to Buchanan's hometown newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer—"Stay with it, Annette!"—to the New York Times.
"If the district attorney and other law enforcement officers had done their own investigative work competently, they would not have had to try to coerce a college student to turn unwilling informer. It is to her credit that she refused to play their childish game," thundered the Timeseditorial, "Child's Play in Oregon."
Support also arrived in more personal forms.
"I had [similar] trouble with another idiotic and ambitious Lane County district attorney," Dick W. Johnston '36, Sports Illustrated's executive editor, wrote Buchanan in a typed letter. "It didn't actually get to court, but I would like to think I would have stood as fast as you." His parting advice: "Hang in there and grind the bastards down. Everybody in the journalistic profession is proud of you."
On campus, Buchanan's journalism professor, Warren C. Price, began a letter-writing campaign to rally professionals to her cause. In the Eugene Register-Guard, Price wrote of his pride in Buchanan, who unwittingly "may now have become the one whose undervalued courage will be used to advocate a privilege law."
Buchanan's opinion on her new role? She remained cryptic in interviews. Once when asked if she felt like John Peter Zenger (whose 1734 libel case established U.S. press freedom decades before the First Amendment), Buchanan replied simply: "No, I feel like a college coed."
But she did believe in what she was doing. When Frye asked her whether a journalist should have a special privilege, she answered, "Yes, I do."
"Why do you think that way?"
"Because I feel it is the only way that a free press can operate and do its job in society."
* * *
Kept at home by the needs of three younger children, Buchanan's parents didn't arrive in Eugene until the day before the trial.
"She wanted us to stay away because she said it would get ugly," says Sheila, Buchanan's now 88-year-old mother.
Ugliness had already crept in. Sheila, her husband, Paul, and their children were receiving threatening calls from "an ex-military guy" who spat venom about the girl he thought should "be a good citizen and turn in those drug dealers," recalls Marian Hoblitt, Buchanan's then 17-year-old sister.
The menacing calls set the household on edge. "I can remember coming home from school one day and my mother was vacuuming," Hoblitt said. "She didn't hear me come in the house and I tapped her on the shoulder, and she just about jumped out of her skin."
A photo taken of Sheila and Paul while in Eugene shows them fighting their way through a throng of journalists. Sheila, in a posh striped jacket, sports sunglasses à la Jackie Kennedy; Paul, a Department of Agriculture economist, wears a freshly ironed suit. The image ran alongside a Register-Guard article headlined "Parents Agree with Annette."
"If she feels these convictions are worth suffering for, she is ready and we are, too, to go ahead," Sheila said in the piece.
"She stands on her own feet," added Paul.
* * *
It's standing room only in Courtroom 1 on June 27 where State of Oregon v. Annette Buchanan starts sharply at ten. Defense attorney Johnson will call 10 witnesses. Most are longstanding West Coast journalists who almost unanimously champion the use of anonymous sources.
"It's as much a part of journalism as the typewriter you pound your story out on," testifies Hu Blonk, the Wenatchee Daily World's managing editor.
"The protection of the integrity of news sources is probably the first tenet of a good reporter," adds Stephen Still, managing editor of California's Oakland Tribune. Any reporter who refused to protect confidential sources would likely, Still says, "be drummed out of the business."
"Are you saying that there is a tradition in your profession that a journalist is entitled to defy or resist or refuse to abide by a court order directing that reporter to reveal information?" Frye asks Curt Osterman, associate news director of Portland-based KATU-TV.
"Yes," Osterman replies.
"Well, where does your opinion come from? Is this your own idea or is this really the idea of the profession?"
"With me it has been an inherited belief and inherited tradition."
What, Judge Leavy interjects, would be the penalties of defying this tradition?
"Being ostracized from the profession."
Still, Frye wants documentation.
"Do you have some authority for that statement?" Frye asks John Hulteng, dean of the UO School of Journalism, concerning Hulteng's opinion that reporters must often grant sources anonymity to unearth news.
"Would you regard as authority the editors of various newspapers around the country?" the dean replies.
"Well, have you got something in writing?"
* * *
The overcrowded courtroom has been stewing for hours in the early summer heat when Johnson calls his tenth and final witness: District Attorney Frye.
The two men, both in the prime of their careers, face one another.
"In some of the issues of the Oregon Daily Emerald that came out during May of this year were you criticized in the editorial pages?" asks Johnson.
"I don't know what you mean by 'criticized' and I don't read the Oregon Daily Emerald," Frye replies.
Cries of surprise fill the courtroom.
"You do not?" exclaims Johnson.
"I can explain that answer," Frye quickly responds. "I am given copies from time to time, but I do not regularly read the Oregon Daily Emerald and did not during the month of May."
"I don't want this thing to get out of hand," Judge Leavy interjects for the second time that day.
Apt words in a trial rife with objections, sustains, and muddled intents. More than once, the court reporter is asked to review the record and clarify what took place just moments before. Then, halfway through questioning, Johnson accidentally dismisses Frye and must ask him to resume the stand. Soon after, Frye summons Buchanan. "Objection," calls Johnson. She has already testified once this day; is it not enough? Overruled.
Frye's questioning of Buchanan goes no smoother then it has all month. Johnson argues the impropriety of compelling Buchanan to publicly answer questions she refuses to address privately. Leavy sees the point; questioning stalls; court recesses to the following morning.
* * *
Closing arguments begin at ten. Johnson speaks first.
"It has been suggested by some, and I think incredibly, that why didn't Annette Buchanan somewhere along the line simply say, 'Well, I don't remember the names anymore.' That's an easy out, an obvious out, but it would be a false out and an out that would indeed be contempt of this court," Johnson says.
Reporters, he argues, have no licenses, a fact that makes their traditions "more binding than anything." As such, Buchanan was simply living up to what she believed to be "the canons of her profession."
"How many times," Johnson continues, "do we say when we intend to pass the highest compliment to someone else that 'his word is his bond'? Well, Annette Buchanan's word was her bond."
It is simpler than that for Frye: "This is a case, I think, involving the law of the land and the dignity of this court. I don't think that any honest contention could be made that this respondent's refusal to abide by the order of the court was not willful."
The court, he continues, has been brought into disrespect and dishonor. Perhaps this wasn't Buchanan's intention, but it's happened and the question remains "whether a private group is going to prevail over the law."
It is noon when Buchanan rises to hear the verdict; her face is pale as she looks to Judge Leavy. He asks if she'd like to say anything before the ruling.
"No, sir," she whispers.
The verdict: guilty. The sentence: a maximum $300 fine.
Stunned, Buchanan buries her face in her hands, shielding herself from a world she thought she understood but of which she'd somehow lost control. Now, after weeks of turmoil, anxiety, and unsought attention, she finally finds herself alone, if only for a moment, in solitary darkness.
* * *
She would pay the fine using money sent from Senator William Knowland of California. Knowland, editor and publisher of the Oakland Tribune and quasi-celebrity (he'd appeared on the cover of Time magazine), was unable to attend the trial but championed Buchanan and sent his managing editor to testify in her support.
News of the verdict traveled fast, even making its way across the Atlantic, generating the U.K. headline "Girl who refused to tell is fined £100 by U.S. court." Hundreds of donations poured in—some 700 supportive letters and telegrams from Europe, Asia, and 32 states.
She didn't pay up right away though. Buchanan and Johnson, by this time fast friends, appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, which upheld the guilty verdict. Next, the pair petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court. "It would have been exciting," Johnson says of the chance to present such a "novel question." But the judges passed and so in 1968, Buchanan's legal efforts ended flatly two years after they began.
By this time, much else had changed. Buchanan, for one, was no longer Buchanan. In June 1967, she married Mike Conard, a photographer she met during the trial. She'd also dropped out of college, perhaps unable to recover from the 11 hours of incomplete grades she took in the spring of 1966.
* * *
"I wish she could tell the story herself," her mother said in an interview during the summer of 2012, "but she can hardly talk to us."
At age 67, Buchanan could no longer walk, dress, or feed herself. Up until two Christmases ago, she sang—carols mainly—but she stopped speaking in 2006. Her doctors suspected frontal lobe dementia due to head injuries caused by two car collisions and a horseback riding accident.
After more than a decade of declining health, Buchanan died on February 1, 2013.
The names of her sources died with her.
"I don't think she ever anticipated that it was going to be a big issue," says her sister Marian. "She was just writing an article for the college newspaper about kids using drugs. I think it was a shock to everybody."
Buchanan's family knows only vaguely of the case's role in the development of Oregon's shield law. In the wake of the trial, Secretary of State Tom McCall '36—himself a UO journalism graduate—said he would push for such a law. It was as governor that McCall signed Senate Bill 206 in April 1973, making it illegal for any authority to compel Oregon media representatives to share their sources and, McCall said, providing "a shield for the public's right to know."
Some scholars continue to debate the influence of Buchanan's case; her own lawyer, who still practices in Eugene, thinks the shield law "overbroad." Nonetheless, hers was a fresh face that spurred discussion, a compelling story that encouraged action. The media coverage of her trial meant shield laws were on the political mind; just weeks after the Lane County case concluded, President Lyndon B. Johnson told reporters that a citizen should be "free to confide in the press without fear of reprisal or being required to reveal or discuss his sources." (The revelations in May 2013 of the U.S. Justice Department using a subpoena to obtain Associated Press reporters' phone records suggest that differences of opinion remain with regard to interpreting press freedoms.)
Buchanan never publicly said how she felt about her article's unexpected importance. She did remain in journalism, but as an Oregonian copy editor rather than as a reporter. "I just didn't want to be on the firing line anymore," she told this magazine in 1987. "I didn't want a byline. I wanted to be behind the scenes."
* * *
When Annette Buchanan was 12 years old, a horse kicked out her teeth. She was riding along the beach when her badly buckled saddle slipped. To avoid falling off completely, Buchanan hung on to the pommel, upside down facing the horse's pounding hooves. She would spend the rest of her life wearing a false plate to hide that day's scars.
Perhaps it would have been best if she'd let go, if she'd let the runaway leave her. But even at 12, Buchanan's instinct was to hold on for the whole ride. When life turned her literally upside down, unexpected and unwanted, Buchanan chose to face the coming charge. It knocked out her teeth; it changed her whole life; it could have been avoided. Then again, letting go never did come naturally to Annette Buchanan.
Elisabeth Kramer '12 first heard of Annette Buchanan as a journalism student at the University of Oregon. She currently works as an assistant editor at Wetpaint Entertainment in Seattle.