When you're an underdog in a David-and-Goliath battle, you may appreciate reporters who turn the glare of publicity on your plight and use the power of the press to help redress an injustice.

When you're a smooth operator whose dealings are exposed by reporters, publicity and press may not be so welcome. In fact, you may have a very negative view of journalism and journalists.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and all Americans benefit from it. Even though it may contain bias and error at times, the press performs a salutary function in exposing the behind-the-scenes dealings of politicians and others.

Newspaper publishers uniformly respect freedom of the press and the long-established right of reporters to protect the confidentiality of their sources. But there are occasional exceptions.

Dan Butcher, for instance, once owned and managed the now-defunct Lincoln Standard. In 2008, a rival newspaper, the Lincoln Journal, ran a series of articles about alleged irregularities in the Lincoln County primary election that year. Did Butcher and his paper jump on the story? On the contrary, they tried to stop it.

Two of Butcher's minions, sometime employees Timothy Butcher (his brother) and Bobby Adkins, filed suit against the owners of the Journal, claiming the articles were defamatory and demanding to know the identities of the anonymous sources cited.

Butcher's newspaper, the Standard, was backing a slate of candidates in that election. The articles in the Journal focused on allegations of impropriety relating to that slate and that apparently raised Butcher's hackles.

Ultimately, Cabell Circuit Judge Jane Hustead ordered the Journal to reveal its sources, but our Supreme Court of Appeals overruled that order last week.

Apparently, the justices care more about freedom of the press than some former publishers do.

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