The owners of Time magazine yesterday submitted to judicial pressure to disclose a confidential source and promised to hand over the notes of a reporter threatened with jail.
US District Judge Thomas Hogan has charged Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of the New York Times with contempt of court for refusing to reveal the identity of their contacts regarding the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name.
He has also charged Time Inc with contempt and threatened the company with huge fines because it was in possession of Mr Cooper's notes that could be relevant to the case. The New York Times had no relevant documents.
It was not yet clear whether Time Inc's actions over the documents would have a bearing on the case against the individual reporters, both of whom are threatened with prison sentences.
In a statement, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, publisher of the New York Times, said: "We are deeply disappointed by Time Inc.'s decision to deliver the subpoenaed records." He noted that one of its reporters served 40 days in jail in 1978 in a similar dispute. "Our focus is now on our own reporter, Judith Miller, and in supporting her during this difficult time," Mr Sulzberger said.
After the supreme court refused to hear the journalists' appeal earlier this week, Mr Hogan said they could be jailed within a week and would remain there until the grand jury's term expires, which could be up to four months.
On Wednesday, Mr Cooper said he did not want his employer to hand over his notes. "On balance, I think I'd prefer them not turn over the documents, but Time can make that decision for itself," he said outside the court.
In a statement, Time said it believed the supreme court had "limited press freedom in ways that will have a chilling effect on our work and that may damage the free flow of information that is so necessary in a democratic society".
None the less it decided to turn the documents over.
"The same constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgments. That Time Inc strongly disagrees with the courts provides no immunity," the statement said.
Mr Hogan has agreed to hold a hearing next week to consider arguments against jailing the two. But he held out little hope that he might be swayed by argument.
"It's curiouser and curiouser. I don't understand why the reporters are asking for more time," Mr Hogan said. "It seems to me the time has come. Much more delay and we will be at the end of the grand jury."
"The only way we operate in this society, in a democratic society, is by the rule of law and to have people obey court orders," he said
Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the case, said Time had no choice but to comply with the order.
Mr Fitzgerald has been investigating who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame days after her husband, the former ambassador Joe Wilson, publicly undercut the president's rationale for invading Iraq.
Ms Plame's identity was first revealed in a column by a conservative pundit, Robert Novak, who has not publicly identified the source for his story nor been held in contempt. Mr Cooper later wrote a story about Ms Plame. Ms Miller conducted interviews but did not write a story.
Robert Bennett, the lawyer representing Ms Miller, told the judge in asking for more time that "it's a big step to put two people in jail who have committed no crimes".
After Mr Hogan held Ms Miller, Mr Cooper and Time magazine in contempt, an appeals court rejected their argument that the first amendment shielded them from revealing their sources.
This decision was upheld on Monday by the supreme court.