Publisher of mass shooter's writings at risk, but establishment media, press advocates eschew story

Leahy and his outlet maintain that no wrongdoing was committed while reporting on the story, but media advocates are eerily silent on the free press issues.

Published: June 18, 2024 11:00pm

Tennessee Star editor-in-chief Michael Patrick Leahy unveiled the Nashville Covenant School mass shooter's personal writings earlier this month, but no mainstream news outlets appear to have reported about the revelations, and only one has reported on the subsequent legal battle that Leahy faces for uncovering the documents. 

Additionally, while journalists' rights organizations traditionally would have provided counsel to a reporter like Leahy in court, few are willing to comment on the case, and Leahy is being represented by America First Legal and Daniel Horwitz, a Nashville-based attorney who focuses on the First Amendment.

Outlets such as Fox News, CNN, The New York Times, NBC News and Reuters have not published any articles regarding the writings of shooter Audrey Hale, a biological female who identified as a male, since Leahy first reported on the issue earlier this month. The Associated Press briefly reported on the matter, but only in regards to the court hearing that Leahy faced after publishing news articles about Hale's writings.

Tennessee Chancery Court Judge l'Ashea Myles ordered Leahy to appear in court Monday to determine whether his outlet violated any of her court orders by publishing news stories about Hale's writings. 

The hearing comes more than a year after Hale killed six people, including three children, before being shot and killed by responding police officers.

Star News Digital Media, of which Leahy is CEO, had sued for the release of Hale's writings, but the outlet was able to obtain some pages independently, which he reported on earlier this month. Myles called for a court hearing to determine whether Leahy violated her court orders that could result in him being held in contempt.

"It's part of a very disturbing trend," Mike Benz, the Foundation for Freedom Online executive director, told the John Solomon Reports podcast on Monday. The "trend" is that the government is starting to "censor something for hypothetical future misinformation ... even if there's no misinformation about it," Benz said.

Leahy and his outlet maintain that no wrongdoing was committed while reporting on the story.

The hearing ended without Myles issuing a decision.

"We are delighted to have the opportunity to continue to exercise our First Amendment Rights," Leahy said as he exited the courtroom Monday.

Of the five reporters' rights organizations contacted by Just the News for this article, just two – the Media Law Resource Center and the Freedom of the Press Foundation – provided substantive responses to requests for comment regarding Leahy's legal proceedings. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN America did not provide comment before publication of this article.

If a reporter lawfully obtains information through a source, any sanctions or contempt findings against that reporter "would be a rather clear violation of the First Amendment," Seth Stern, the director of advocacy at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Just the News

"I wonder whether they're even threatening the right guy? I mean, it would be the reporter who got the information," George Freeman, the executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, told Just the News. "Who knows exactly where it (the leak) came from? Who would be vulnerable? Not a top editor just because he's the top editor."

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