The case of journalist James Risen is the one that could end the free press as we know it and it could result in a law that will shut down bloggers and citizen journalists.
James Risen is a foreign policy reporter who is pitched in a fierce battle with the U.S. government over his refusal to give up the identity of an anonymous CIA source and to testify at the trial on former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling who is accused of leaking information to him. Risen says that Obama is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.”
Obama wants to control the flow of information.
Because of the Risen case, the government is considering a Shield law that could affect all bloggers by defining the term “journalist” and it will have the effect of protecting only those who fall under that definition. They could be easily sued or worse.
Some believe that the federal Shield law being considered would undermine the government’s ability to investigate leaks. Others say it has too many carve outs for the government. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin wanted to define who is a journalist and under what conditions the term applies.
They want to narrow the definition of a journalist. They say it is because they want to protect those who write for free, but in effect, they would be offering protections only for those who fit their narrow definition, putting bloggers and citizen journalists at risk by not falling under the definition of a “journalist.” It could shut down blogs and everyone’s right to speak freely.
Of course, if James Risen is not protected under the First Amendment, bloggers will also not be protected.
James Risen is ready to go to jail for his belief in the right of the press to report freely. Risen took his case to the Supreme Court of the United States in mid-January.
When asked by reporter Margaret Sullivan what the case means to him, he said:
“This case has been transformed into a potential constitutional showdown over the First Amendment and the role of the press in the United States because of the Obama Administration’s aggressive use of the powers of the government to try to rein in independent national security reporting. It was the Obama Administration that sought to turn this case into a basic constitutional fight over whether a reporter’s privilege exists. It is the Obama Administration that wants to use this case and others like it to intimidate reporters and whistle blowers. But I am appealing to the Supreme Court because it is too dangerous to allow the government to conduct national security policy completely in the dark.”
Our nation is in grave danger of losing the free press, a press which is already seriously compromised because it is heavily-weighted with left-leaning reporters and their managers.
Through two presidential administrations, foreign policy reporter James Risen has resisted the US Department of Justice’s attempts to force him to reveal the identity of an anonymous CIA source.
James Risen (born c. 1955) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist for The New York Times who previously worked for the Los Angeles Times.
Former CIA operative Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, Risen’s alleged source, was being investigated during the Bush administration. In 2010 he was indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917, one of the few people in US history whose alleged contact with a journalist was punished under espionage law.
Risen was subpoenaed in relation to the case in 2008. He fought the subpoena, and it expired in the summer of 2009. In what the New York Times called “a rare step,” the Obama administration renewed the subpoena in 2010. In 2011 Risen wrote a detailed response to the subpoena, describing his reasons for refusing to reveal his sources, the public impact of his work, and his experiences with the Bush administration.
In July 2013, the US Court of Appeals from the Fourth Circuit ruled that Risen must testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling. The court wrote “so long as the subpoena is issued in good faith and is based on a legitimate need of law enforcement, the government need not make any special showing to obtain evidence of criminal conduct from a reporter in a criminal proceeding.”
Judge Roger Gregory disagreed with the rest of the judges, writing “The majority exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press, and in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society.”
On Friday, James Risen spoke before a large group of journalists and media professionals at the Sources and Secrets conference in New York City.
Risen said that the government has given him a choice he cannot accept. They are demanding he either get out of investigative journalism by giving up his sources or go to jail.
“The choice is get out of the business — give up everything I believe in — or go to jail,” Risen said. “They’ve backed me into a corner.”
Risen further said that the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.” Any one journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, “will be punished.”
The administration’s aggressive prosecutions have created “a de facto Official Secrets Act,” Risen said, and the media has been “too timid” in responding.
The U.S. Department of Justice rewrote the guidelines for accessing journalists’ records recently after the James Rosen case came to the fore. Rosen, not to be confused with Risen, is a Fox News reporter who was secretly investigated by the DOJ that lied to the FISA court and claimed Rosen was a co-conspirator for performing his journalistic duties in another leak investigation.
The guidelines however leave a big hole through which the government can decide what is “ordinary news gathering.”
According to Poynter, McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay said he no longer emails sources and that a lot of the investigation work on McClatchy’s story about the CIA possibly spying on a Senate committee was done by a 22-year-old who “doorstepped” committee members. “I know where a lot of payphones are in Washington, D.C.,” Landay said.
There is not much in the way of investigative journalism going on because of the Obama administration’s cajoling, press infiltration, and threatening tactics. They have had a chilling effect on journalism. In the end, if they are silenced, everyone will be silenced.