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Briefs (right)

U.S. Subpoenas Newspaper
For Sources in Steroid Case

By Adam Liptak

In the latest effort by the government to learn the identities of reporters’ confidential sources, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles issued grand jury subpoenas to The San Francisco Chronicle and two of its reporters on Friday. The relative ordinariness of the case, which arose out of reporting on steroid use in baseball rather than on covert operatives, domestic eavesdropping or secret prisons, may make its outcome instructive.

As a practical matter, the case will answer whether, after a series of recent setbacks, reporters retain any rights to protect their confidential sources in federal court.

Phil Bronstein, the editor of The Chronicle, said the paper would move to quash the subpoenas.

Whether it succeeds will turn in large part on which of two competing approaches the courts adopt. Both were represented last year in a federal appeals court’s decision that sent Judith Miller, then a reporter for The New York Times, to jail in an investigation centering on the disclosure of the identity of Valerie Wilson, an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The three appeals judges who heard that case agreed that a 1972 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Branzburg v. Hayes, ruled out any First Amendment protections for reporters from federal grand jury subpoenas except in cases of prosecutorial harassment.

But one judge, David S. Tatel, proposed an alternative approach rooted in the federal common law of evidence rather than the First Amendment. A similar test is part of a proposed federal shield law likely to be introduced in the Senate shortly.

U.N. Aid Workers Are Said
To Abuse Girls

By Sarah Lyall

Liberian girls as young as 8 are being sexually exploited by U.N. peacekeepers, aid workers and teachers in return for food, small favors and even rides in trucks, according to a new report from Save the Children U.K.

The report said the problem was widespread throughout Liberia, a small country struggling to get back on its feet after a long and bloody civil war.

Save the Children based its findings on interviews with more than 300 people in camps for displaced people and in neighborhoods whose residents have returned after being driven away by war. They said men in positions of authority — aid workers and soldiers, government employees and officials in the camps — were abusing girls.

“All of the respondents clearly stated that the scale of the problem affected over half of the girls in their locations,” the report said. “The girls reportedly ranged in age from 8 to 18 years, with girls of 12 years and upward described as being regularly involved in ‘selling sex,’ commonly referred to as ‘man business.”’

Save the Children is an international nonprofit aid organization which originated in Britain in 1919. Its affiliates in 27 countries operate in 111 nations.

In Search of Winning Themes, Democrats Debate Their Identity

By Robin Toner

With Democrats increasingly optimistic about this year’s midterm elections and the landscape for 2008, intellectuals in the center and on the left are debating how to sharpen the party’s identity and present a clear alternative to the conservatism that has been dominating political thought for a generation.

Many of these analysts, both liberals and moderates, are convinced that the Democrats face a moment of historic opportunity. They say that the country is weary of war and division and ready — if given a compelling choice — to reject the Republicans and change the country’s direction. They argue that the Democratic Party is, in many ways, showing signs of new health: intense party discipline on Capitol Hill, a raft of policy proposals and an energized base.

But some of these analysts argue that the party needs something more than a pastiche of policy proposals. It needs a broader vision, a narrative, they say, to return to power and govern effectively — what some describe as an unapologetic appeal to the “common good,” to big goals like expanding affordable health coverage and to occasional sacrifice for the sake of the nation as a whole. This emerging critique reflects, for many, a hunger to move beyond the carefully calibrated centrism that marked the Clinton years, which was itself the product of the last major effort to redefine the Democratic Party.

Two Experts Denounce
Bird Flu TV Movie as Unrealistic

By Donald G. McNeil Jr.

“Fatal Contact,” Tuesday night’s ABC movie about bird flu reaching the United States, has been denounced as medically unrealistic by two prominent flu experts who have seen it, one of whom is the film’s technical consultant.

While much of the film follows conventional wisdom about how a pandemic might unfold, scenes of blood spouting from victims, bodies dumped in mass graves and the suggestion that the virus could mutate until it is 100 percent fatal were “over the top,” both said.

With interest in avian flu intense — the White House issued the second part of its pandemic plan last week — health officials are worried about the effect on the public.

“It’s unfortunate that a lot of people may be scared by it,” said Thomas W. Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has seen the film. “But the best antidote for fear is information, and if it makes people get more up to speed on pandemics, that’s a good thing.”

On Monday, two flu experts who were involved early in the film’s production held a telephone news conference to criticize it.