The Daily News, a newspaper published in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley by the Chicago Tribune Co., has ordered two of its reporters to reveal the names of confidential sources in an effort to overturn a $660 million libel judgment awarded to former Iranian hostage Jerry Plotkin.
On Jan. 20, 1981, the day the hostages were freed, the Daily News ran a front-page article in which Lt. Clark Wardle of the Los Angeles Police Department's narcotics division was quoted as describing Plotkin as being suspected in connection with drugs.
Other unidentified federal and local law enforcement agents were quoted as saying that Plotkin, the only hostage who was a private citizen, would be questioned about the reason for his trip to Iran and his visit to the embassy when it was taken over by the Iranian students.
The Los Angeles Police Department responded to the story with a statement that they were not interested in Plotkin and that Wardle denied the quote attributed to him.
In March, 1981, Plotkin filed a libel suit against the newspaper and Arnie Friedman and Adam Dawson, the two reporters who had written the article. Last Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sara K. Radin ruled that the newspaper had defaulted on the suit because Friedman and Dawson refused to obey her order to name their sources.
Yesterday, Daniel Fogel, an attorney for the Daily News, filed documents with the court asking that the ruling be reconsidered because the newspaper had ordered its reporters to reveal their sources.
A sworn statement to the Superior Court by J. Scott Schmidt, publisher of the Daily News, said, "On Dec. 21, 1982, I advised Arnie Friedman and Adam Dawson, who are individual defendants herein, and reporters employed by the publisher, that it is the publisher's policy to comply with the court's order . . .and I ordered said reporters to comply. To date the said reporters have not complied with my order."
The newspaper won a delay, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 10, seeking a reconsideration of the default judgment.
Schmidt refused to comment on the case, as did Bruce Winters, the editor of the Daily News, Max McCrohon, vice president of news for the Chicago Tribune Co., and the two reporters involved.