U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Boston Globe editor subpoenaed for testimony in Harvard admissions bribery case

Incident Details

Miller_Subpoena_Boston_Globe

A portion of the subpoena issued to Boston Globe editor Joshua Miller seeking testimony in a federal bribery case connected to a Harvard admissions scandal. — SCREENSHOT

December 13, 2022 - Update

Boston Globe editor compelled to testify in Harvard admissions bribery case

The Boston Globe reported that its editor Joshua Miller was compelled to testify on Dec. 13, 2022, in Boston, Massachusetts, after a judge denied the request to quash a subpoena in a federal bribery trial that stemmed from Miller’s reporting on Harvard admissions.

In upholding the subpoena, District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. said that the First Amendment did not protect Miller from testifying on conversations that weren’t private.

Miller, who was subpoenaed in October by the Department of Justice, testified briefly to the accuracy of statements made by businessman Jie “Jack” Zhao that were published in his 2019 Boston Globe article. Miller had interviewed Zhao for an article on allegations he bribed Harvard’s then-fencing coach, Peter Brand, to secure university admission for his children. Both men were indicted by the Justice Department a year after Miller broke the story.

After Miller testified, Dan Krockmalnic, executive vice president for New Media and general counsel of Boston Globe Media, expressed disappointment in the court’s decision to uphold the subpoena.

“Mr. Miller’s testimony was the lesser of two evils,” Krockmalnic told the Globe. “Answering questions about his newsgathering efforts runs counter to principles of a free and powerful press, but in this instance it was preferable to being held in contempt.”

Krockmalnic also said he was grateful for the support of news organizations and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which wrote a friend of the court brief in November, warning of the possible chilling effect that forcing journalists to testify could have on newsgathering.

Neither Miller nor the Globe’s counsel responded to requests for comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

October 11, 2022

Boston Globe journalist Joshua Miller was subpoenaed for testimony as part of a Harvard University admissions scandal criminal case in Boston, Massachusetts, on Oct. 11, 2022.

In April 2019, Miller, now the Globe’s politics editor, broke the story of bribes allegedly paid to Harvard’s fencing coach, Peter Brand, by Maryland businessman Jie Zhao. According to the Globe, Zhao purchased Brand’s house at nearly twice its value. In return, Brand allegedly helped facilitate Harvard admission for Zhao’s two sons by recruiting them to the university’s fencing team.

Two months after the Globe published the story, the Department of Justice launched a grand jury inquiry. Brand and Zhao were formally indicted on federal bribery charges in 2020.

Globe legal counsel Jonathan M. Albano challenged the 2022 subpoena for Miller’s testimony in a Nov. 3 motion to quash, arguing that it’s not vital to the government’s case.

Albano requested that the judge instead issue a protective order for an in-camera review of Miller's recorded interview with Zhao. In a written declaration submitted to the court, Miller stated that testifying would force him to disclose confidential sources he felt “duty-bound to protect” and could have a negative impact on future reporting.

“I believe this will inhibit sources from speaking to me in the future because they will not trust that our conversations will exclusively be used for news reporting,” Miller stated. “I believe they will speak less frankly to me, or not speak to me at all, since they may fear that what they tell me will become something I will later testify about in criminal or civil litigation.”

Neither Miller nor Albano responded to requests for comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

On Nov. 8, the DOJ filed an opposition to the motion to quash, claiming only Miller can provide first-hand knowledge of Zhao’s statements to him. The federal bribery trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]