I've heard that former KDKA reporter Marie Torre was put in jail for refusing to name an informant regarding a news story. How long did she spend in jail? | You Had to Ask | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

I've heard that former KDKA reporter Marie Torre was put in jail for refusing to name an informant regarding a news story. How long did she spend in jail?

Question submitted by: Larry Pergzola, South Side

Woodward and Bernstein took down Nixon, Upton Sinclair blew the lid off the meatpacking industry, and Geraldo Rivera exposed the mystery of Al Capone's secret vault. But all these feats of journalistic courage pale beside that of Marie Torre. I mean, it's one thing to bring down a president who suffers from 5 o'clock shadow at 10:30 in the morning; it's another to take on Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

For those young'uns who don't remember, between 1962 and 1977 Torre was a TV news reporter here in Pittsburgh. But long before she was a reporter for television, she reported on it, in a column appearing in the New York-based International Herald Tribune. And in 1959, she became a free-speech martyr at the hands of none other than Judy Garland.

Garland was outraged by a column Torre wrote about a dispute between Garland and CBS: Torre's piece quoted an unnamed but obviously exasperated CBS official who groused that Garland "doesn't want to work" and was afraid of appearing on TV because "she thinks she is terribly fat."

Garland sued CBS for nearly $1.4 million, accusing it of libel. Apparently she was concerned that she might be regarded as some kind of diva or something. The judge in the case demanded that Torre turn over the name of her source, but Torre replied that if she handed the name over "nobody in the business will trust me or talk to me again."

In a ruling that hit Torre like a ton of bricks -- or a Kansas farmhouse -- the judge sentenced Torre to 10 days in jail for contempt of court. (Incidentally, that's 10 more days than Bob Novak will ever serve for not revealing the name of the Bush Administration source who revealed the identity of a CIA operative this summer. It's also 10 more days than any member of the Bush Administration is likely to do for providing that name in potential violation of federal law. )

Torre had two young children at the time -- her daughter would later grow up to be a news anchor herself -- but later claimed that only made her decision easier: "[A]ll I could think of was when they grow up, they're going to say, 'Mommy was a snitch,'" she told writer Ellie Wymard in Conversations with Uncommon Women. So off to the Hudson County, New Jersey, jail she went, into a cell, which a (false) rumor claimed had been painted pink. "Girl TV Editor Will Go to Jail," read one headline, aptly demonstrating the environment Torre worked in and contended with every day.

Torre's lawyers appealed the ruling, and the case was ultimately decided by federal judge Potter Stewart, who later was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (and whose best-known judicial utterance was his definition of pornography: "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it"). Perhaps under pressure from armies of winged monkeys, Stewart ruled against Torre. At the time, a journalist's ability to protect a source was more tenuous than it is today: While Stewart acknowledged that revealing a source might infringe on the First Amendment, he argued that "the duty of a witness to testify in a court of law has roots as deep as the guarantee of a free press." Stewart was facing a choice between jail time and giving up the name of the leaker. Torre would later recall her attorney saying, "You'll spend the rest of your life in and out of jail."

Instead, she spent much of it in Pittsburgh. Garland never pressed the matter -- perhaps she realized that imprisoning reporters made her look less like Dorothy and more like the witch. Torre later joined KDKA-TV in 1962 to do hard news, and long after she returned to New York in 1977 -- there's no place like home, apparently -- she was remembered as a proto-feminist here. In her 1997 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary, veteran newsman Paul Long recalled showing her the "spike" where wire-service stories about women's news were hung. "She hit the ceiling," Long recalled. "'Women's news? What's the difference between that and men's news? Do you have a spike for men's news? I don't do women's news!'"

Long described her as a "real charming gal when she wanted to be," suggesting that perhaps Torre's point about gender equality didn't entirely get across. Indeed, perhaps the biggest irony of her career is that her principled defense of confidentiality concerned a story with no news value whatsoever. But hey: In her years as a reporter, Torre demonstrated brains, courage, and heart ... and she didn't have to walk a yellow-brick road to do it.

The 2024 Pittsburgh Dyke March
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The 2024 Pittsburgh Dyke March

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