Journalist and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal has settled his First Amendment lawsuit against the U.S. government in a case that challenged the right of reporters to protect confidential sources before military tribunals.
The case stems from the Army’s threat to subpoena Boal’s unaired taped interviews with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who’s charged with deserting his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was released by the Taliban five years later.
Boal, who won an Original Screenlay Oscar for The Hurt Locker, recorded 25 hours of interviews with Bergdahl, parts of which were aired on the popular podcast Serial. But when Army prosecutors threatened to subpoena the unaired tapes, Bergdahl filed suit, claiming it violated his First Amendment rights and the rights of journalists to protect their sources.
The settlement calls for the government to drop the subpoena and allow him to protect all confidential material on the tapes. In return, Boal has agreed to verify, if necessary before a court martial, that the tapes contain Bergdahl’s authentic voice and provide the court with small portions of his interviews with Bergdahl that were either previously heard on the podcast or were summarized by Boal or the series’ host, Sarah Koenig. He also agreed to drop his demand for attorney fees.
“I’m happy that the Army ultimately agreed to uphold the traditions of a free civilian press,” Boal said.
“This is a terrific resolution,” said his attorney, Jean-Paul Jassy. “The Army originally demanded 25 hours of Mark Boal’s unedited interviews with Bergdahl that included confidential discussions and all sorts of personal material that wasn’t ever meant to be public. Mark Boal faced down the demand. He is a First Amendment hero.”
Boal’s stance was supported by more than three dozen major national media organizations, including the Washington Post, the Associated Press, National Public Radio and all the major network news outlets.
“We supported this lawsuit because it sent a very strong message about aggressively defending rights under the First Amendment,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “That message was heard and received. The resulting settlement protects newsgathering and confidential communications with sources. This is a great outcome.”
A spokesman for the Army could not be reached immediatelyf or comment.