Risen Still Fighting, Calls Obama 'Greatest Enemy to Press Freedom'

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 19, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There may not be another court to turn to for relief, but two-time Pulitzer Prize winner James Risen still won't back down in a fight to force him to turn over his confidential sources for his 2006 book, "State of War," which contained confidential CIA secrets regarding Iran's nuclear program.

The Fourth Circuit ruled against Risen last year, holding that Branzburg v. Hayes controlled and that there was no reporter's privilege that would keep a reporter off the stand during grand jury proceedings. It was a terrible outcome for press freedom, but as we noted before, it was a precedent required by precedent: The Supreme Court stated in Branzburg it could not "seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects a newsman's agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof ..."

Only the Supreme Court could have changed that precedent, and it declined to take the case earlier this year. Legally, the battle ended there, but Risen, and his supporters, are still not backing down.

Petition and Pulitzer Prize Winners Tell DOJ to Back Down

Last week, the Department of Justice was presented with a gift: a petition containing 100,000 signatures demanding that the agency let Risen be, reports Politico. A spokesperson for the DOJ accepted the petition -- which was printed across 4,000 pages and bound in red, white, and blue ribbons -- and carried it into the agency's headquarters without comment.

Along with the petition, 20 Pulitzer Prize winners released statements in support of Risen, including the particularly powerful words of three-time winner David Barstow, a fellow New York Times reporter:

Enough is enough. The relentless and by all appearances vindictive effort by two administrations to force Jim Risen into betraying his sources has already done substantial and lasting damage to journalism in the United States. I've felt the chill first hand. Trusted sources in Washington are scared to talk by telephone, or by email, or even to meet for coffee, regardless of whether the subject touches on national security or not. My fellow investigative reporters commiserate about how we're being forced to act like drug dealers, taking extreme precautions to avoid leaving any digital breadcrumbs about where we've been and who we've met. If you value a vibrant free press, you want the Jim Risens of the world out hunting for the toughest truths about how power is used and abused. You don't want them rotting in jail cells. Do we really want to be that kind of country?

After Ferguson, Risen Calls Obama 'Enemy to Press Freedom'

In a Sunday op-ed by a fellow Times reporter, Risen was quoted labeling President Obama as the "greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation," not only because of his own case, but because of the CIA's Senate spying scandal, the "tortured some folks" scandal, and the Insider Threat Program (in which federal employees are required to spy on each other and managers are required to punish those who don't report their suspicions).

They forgot the big one: that time the administration was caught spying on The Associated Press. To be fair, however, Risen's own case goes back to the George W. Bush administration, and Branzburg goes back to 1972. And since the Supreme Court has failed to step in, and the Obama administration seems to lack any desire to change course, maybe Congress is the answer -- after November, of course.

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