Legal Defense Fund to Protect Survivor’s Names from Subpoenas

Payday Report Founder Mike Elk is facing a subpoena threat to turn over sexual assault survivors (Zach Roberts)

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Semafor’s Ben Smith broke the story that I’m fighting a subpoena attempt to turn over the names of sexual misconduct survivors. Additionally, I am being asked to turn over all my communications with the New York Times from when I broke the story of Michael Fuoco, who was labeled “the Harvey Weinstein of Pittsburgh.” 

The New York Times has weighed in denouncing the move by the NewsGuild.

“We are always troubled when litigants use discovery to seek communications between sources and journalists, and it is especially concerning coming from a union that represents journalists,” Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha told Semafor.

(Read the full Semafor story on the subpoena attempt that Payday Report faces.)

Instead of the subpoena coming from Elon Musk or some right-wing billionaire, it’s coming from the NewsGuild.

This is a dangerous precedent for the NewsGuild to set. If we lose in court, every right-wing billionaire will cite NewsGuild vs. Elk to get people to give up sources. One of the union’s lawyers even argued in court that I wasn’t a journalist, making this an even scarier precedent for independent journalists at small outlets. 

At a time when NewsGuild is under attack throughout the industry, the union is spending money getting reporters to give up sources.

The union has been rocked by a series of sexual misconduct and violent intimidation scandals, which resulted in the top NewsGuild official in CWA, Sara Steffens, being voted out of office this year. (Read the CWA’s Emergency Mutual Respect Committee report on the scandals that have rocked the union)

Now, the union is going after me for exposing a cover-up of sexual misconduct, which resulted in a major New York Times exposé that showed the leadership of the NewsGuild ignored sexual misconduct in its leadership. At a time when the leadership of NewsGuild is embattled, the union is going out of its way to use legal proceedings to intimidate whistleblowers to prevent more people from speaking up. 

The legal costs of fighting back, though, are quite expensive. While I have found a great civil liberties lawyer, Louis Kroeck, to represent me pro bono, I still have to pay legal fees and hire a court reporter to take depositions. The cost of the court report will likely run from $3,000-$5,000. 

We need your donations to fight back and protect our sources. 

If we lose this case, it will set up a dangerous precedent that will be cited by every right-wing billionaire who will cite this case to force journalists to turn over sources. 

Please donate to our legal defense fund. We will use the money to fight back, and any money that is left, we will use to continue to do the hard-hitting labor reporting that we will always do. 

Donate to Our Legal Defense Fund Today

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]