Confidential Settlement: Breach of Promise of Confidentiality by Media

Failure to Keep News Source Anonymous Termination of Job/Confidential Settlement

Producers for a national newscast interviewed a federal employee regarding unsafe governmental practices which posed a threat of harm to the public. The federal employee agreed to speak on television regarding the unsafe practices if the media would promise to maintain his confidentiality. The employee granted a broadcast interview in exchange for the specific promise of the media company to disguise both his appearance and his voice so that nobody would be able to determine that he had been the source for the broadcast story regarding unsafe practices. Under a line of decisions based on the Cohen v. Cowles decision, promises of the media to maintain confidentiality are enforceable.

On an evening national news program, the media company broadcast an interview of the employee. Although the media company disguised the employee's appearance, they did not alter or disguise his voice. As a result of the failure of the media company to honor its promise of confidentiality, the federal employee, who had a lengthy and unblemished work history, was fired. He was unable to continue in his chosen profession, and lost substantial income and employee benefits.

After a lengthy negotiation process, including an extended mediation, the parties were able to settle the claims under a strict confidentiality agreement. The claims were settled just prior to the filing of a civil action.

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