Freedom of the Press in Jeopardy as Obama Goes After Times Reporter Risen
Advocates urge the Obama administration to stop its efforts to compel the New York Times’ James Risen to reveal a confidential source in his 2006 book
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: In Washington, D.C., on August 14, journalists and advocates spoke out at the National Press Club and demanded the Obama administration stop its efforts to compel New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his source in the 2006 book State of War that detailed a botched attempt at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
JAMES RISEN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The Justice Department and the Obama administration are the ones who turned this, really, into a fundamental fight over press freedom in their appeal to the Fourth Circuit. They said that this case, the central issue of this case was not some details or specifics or anything, that the fundamental thing that this case was about was that there was no such thing as a reporter’s privilege. If you read the government’s brief in the Fourth Circuit appeal, that’s what they say: there is no such thing as a reporter’s privilege. And so they turned this case into a showdown over the First Amendment and over the freedom of the press in the United States. And so I’m happy to carry on that fight, but it wasn’t me who really started it.
NOOR: Risen has been fighting the subpoena since 2008. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Risen’s appeal of a lower court decision ordering him to testify and reveal his source.
RISEN: I think what–you know, this has been a long case. I got subpoenaed in 2008 first. But what I can say now is with all of these people showing their support, I’m willing to keep fighting, because now I know that I have just an enormous group of people supporting me.
And one of the things that I’d like to say is that the real reason I’m doing this is for the future of journalism. My oldest son, Tom, standing right there, is a journalist, and I want to make sure that the same protections that I’ve had in my career are there for the future reporters in America, because there is no way we could do our jobs if we don’t have the ability to have aggressive investigative reporting in America and to have the ability to maintain confidential sources.
NORMAN SOLOMON, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: It was 60 years ago that in perhaps his most well-known and well-remembered TV broadcast Edward R. Murrow said, “we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” He said that at a time when it was essential for journalists to step forward to lance a boil of fear and intimidation that had gripped official Washington for years and the entire country as well. That was 1954. Here we are in 2014, and the events today are part of, I think, a very strongly accelerating effort across this country to lance a boil of fear and intimidation.
NOOR: Eric Holder reportedly said earlier this year, quote, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail. As long as I’m attorney general, someone who is doing their job is not going to get prosecuted.”
But advocates say that’s not enough. They also explained why they want the Obama administration to drop its case against Risen.
AHMED GHAPPOUR, LAW PROFESSOR, UC HASTINGS: There is no law that mandates a press to obtain government approval about lawfully acquired information. There is no dispute that such a law would be unconstitutional on its face as a prior restraint of speech and would threaten to transform this great country from being a democracy to becoming a totalitarian state.
COURTNEY RADCSH, JOURNALIST, AUTHOR, AND FREE EXPRESSION ADVOCATE: And having read Jim’s affidavit explaining why he cannot testify and detailing the extent of government harassment and surveillance of his electronic communications, it is clear that if he is forced to testify, he would likely put at risk the confidentiality of his source. Furthermore, these type of aggressive prosecutions send a dangerous signal to governments elsewhere that would seek to use national security and anti-state charges as a cover for clamping down on journalists and press freedom. According to CPJ research, nearly 60 percent of imprisoned journalists worldwide are imprisoned on anti-state charges, such as subversion or terrorism.
GREGG LESLIE, LEGAL DEFENSE DIRECTOR, THE REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: It’s all in the wording, obviously, and that’s always what it comes down to. But we think it’s finessed enough to say that the exemption for national security cases is really going to come into play when there’s an ongoing threat to national security, not when there’s just an effort to examine something in the past. As long as we maintain that–and, obviously, the wording can change day-to-day as it goes through every step of Congress, but that’s a critical thing. The government will always want the ability to investigate incidents where there truly is a current, real, meaningful threat to the national security. And we’re never going to win that one.
JESSELYN RADACK, WHISTLEBLOWER, FORMER ETHICS ADVISER, USDOJ: Anyone who doubts that the war on whistleblowers is a backdoor war on journalists should study the case of Jim Risen. Threats to reporters are the undercurrent in the Obama administration’s record-setting Espionage Act prosecutions of so-called leakers. As a whistleblower attorney, there are a small but essential handful of reporters I feel confident will accurately report information and protect their sources. Jim Risen is one of them. And if he is jailed or forced to pay harsh daily fines, the pool of reporters who know whistleblowers are essential for accurate reporting will become even smaller.
NOOR: For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Washington.
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