Investigative Reporter Fights CBS Subpoenaby Peter Lance -- 07/10/2002
Los Angeles 6/14/01 The multi-million dollar litigation over charges by a former Castaway that CBS’s blockbuster series Survivor was “rigged” entered a new phase today when the investigative reporter who first broke the rigging charges in a book last fall challenged a 13-page subpoena from CBS’s lawyers attempting to force him to divulge the confidential sources behind his book.
In a 10-page response to White, O’Conner, Curry, Gatti & Avanzado, lawyers for CBS and SEG, Inc. (Survivor Entertainment Group), former ABC News correspondent Peter Lance alleged that CBS/SEG’s attempts to discover his reporter’s work product and sources amounted to “harassment.” On May 10th, CBS/SEG served Lance with a subpoena to appear at a sworn deposition set for June 25th.
Lance first revealed the Survivor rigging allegations by ex-Castaways Stacey Stillman and Dirk Been last Fall in his investigative book The Stingray: Lethal Tactics of the Sole Survivor (Shadow Lawn Press, ISBN: 1885840039 -- click here for a full review of the book).
The charges were corroborated February 5th when Ms. Stillman sued CBS in San Francisco Superior Court and later CBS/SEG cited her interviews with Lance for The Stingray in their five-million dollar lawsuit against Ms. Stillman filed in Los Angeles Superior Court February 20th.
Today, attorneys for the five-time Emmy winning investigative reporter charged that CBS/SEG’s refusal to depose Lance in both pending Survivor cases (something they did for non-party witness Dirk Been) was further evidence of a campaign of intimidation.
“CBS/SEG would be hard pressed to articulate any basis for subjecting Mr. Lance to multiple depositions, other than a desire to harass him,” wrote Lance’s attorney, Jeff Feldman, in a four-page cover letter to Holly Sadlon, a lawyer for CBS/SEG at the White, O’Conner firm.
“Mr. Lance… is a non-party witness in this case,” wrote Feldman. “The breathtaking scope of the subpoena that CBS/SEG served on Mr. Lance, seems designed in large part to harass him… most of the documents the subpoena seeks production of are protected by legal privilege. For that reason, much of the subpoena is unenforceable.”
Included in the reams of files CBS/SEG has demanded that Lance produce are: “Any and all documents which refer, reflect or relate to any communications between (Lance) and any person including, but not limited to notes, memoranda, letters, facsimiles, e-mails, telephone records and telephone messages, including any and all drafts, concerning: (a) this litigation (b) Survivor, (c) the SEG action; (d) CBS; (e) VIACOM; (f) Burnett; (g) Survivor Productions Inc; (h) Survivor Productions LLC; or (i) SEG.”
The “Burnett” referred to is Survivor Executive Producer Mark Burnett, who Castaway Dirk Been swore “influenced” his vote against Stillman on Day 9 of Survivor’s first season.
“With this all-encompassing subpoena,” said Lance “CBS, the network of 60 Minutes, is attempting to uncover every single confidential source and all of the reporting that went into the writing of The Stingray, including my ongoing coverage of the Survivor rigging scandal from the moment I first started talking to Richard Hatch a year ago until the moment the subpoena was issued on May 10th, 2001.
“My lawyers and I have already spent days preparing a response. During that time I’ve had to drop my on-going coverage of the Survivor scandal. There’s no doubt that this overly broad subpoena is an attempt by CBS to take me off this story.”
“California and federal law… recognize a common-law privilege, which, among other things prevents any party from forcing a journalist to reveal unpublished material, research material and confidential information and sources,” wrote Feldman in his letter to lawyers for CBS/SEG. “…unless and until that party can demonstrate a compelling need and that it has exhausted its ability to obtain the sought material from alternative, non-privilege sources.”
“Right now, as far as we know, I’m the only person (other than Dirk Been) to be set for a deposition in this matter,” said Lance, “not Stacey Stillman, not Mark Burnett, nor any officials of CBS. The question is why subject the reporter who first broke the Survivor rigging allegations to this level of legal intimidation unless CBS is determined to chill him from covering the ongoing story?”
On May 26th, represented by Feldman, Lance filed a Motion to Unseal Dirk Been’s deposition in the litigation after it had been deemed sealed and kept secret by lawyers for Stillman and CBS/SEG. At a hearing on Lance’s Motion May 17th, the Judge in the CBS/SEG vs. Stillman case ruled that the deposition should not be sealed and CBS finally made it public May 25th.
Among the revelations was Been’s sworn assertion that he had originally intended to vote Ex-Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch off the island of Pulau Tiga in Episode Three of Survivor One, but after Burnett intervened with him and Castaway Dr. Sean Kenniff suggesting they form an alliance against Ms. Stillman, he changed his vote.
In recent weeks CBS had taken an aggressive stance against another network news organization critical of Survivor. After Lance shared his findings in two investigative segments of Dateline NBC (May 14th and June 1st) CBS accused NBC (in the words of a recent L.A. Times story) of “unleashing it’s news division on the CBS program ‘Survivor’ to service NBC’s corporate ends.”
"Whatever the reality, the perception is that 'Dateline' is basing its editorial decisions on the financial interests of NBC Entertainment,” wrote CBS in a statement released June 1st. “We'd like to think that CBS News would never be used to attack a competitor."
Ironically, Lance’s attorney cited the same stellar reputation of CBS News in his letter today to CBS/SEG:
“CBS has a long and distinguished history of working to protect the First Amendment’s freedom of the press,” wrote Feldman. “It would be a sad day and a long-remembered moment in American journalism, if the legacy of Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, and Walter Cronkite is sullied by a short-sighted effort by the network to trample a journalist’s proper assertion of those same rights and freedoms.”
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