Back in December, journalist James Risen of The New York Times, learned that he wouldn’t be compelled by the Justice Department to testify or to name his source in the case of former CIA operative Jeffrey Alexander, who is accused of leaking details of a top secret operation targeting Iran’s nuclear program. You might recall how Risen, while promoting his book, had repeatedly accused the Obama administration of being “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”
Even though it’s absolutely untrue, and we’ll cover the numbers here in a second, I tried to offer Risen a sliver of latitude given the weight on his shoulders. If Justice had forced him to testify, he probably wouldn’t have and would’ve consequently been held in contempt and imprisoned. Though based on random remarks from outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, it was unlikely this was going happen, and indeed it didn’t, as we learned in December.
So, you’d think Risen would’ve backed off this “greatest enemy” crap, right? No way. The taste of Greenwaldian hysteria is too difficult to kick, and off he went on Twitter, posting a series of loud noises as if December had never happened.
The thing that appears to have set Risen off this time was a line in Holder’s speech in which he said, “I think there is a question that members of the press should ask, about whether or not the disclosure of the information has a negative impact on the national security of the nation.”
And this is wrong why exactly? Of course any responsible reporter doesn’t have a problem withholding information that might endanger the United States. Snowden reporters Barton Gellman and Glenn Greenwald have each withheld mountains of information along those lines — and much to the chagrin of conspiracy theorists and Wikileaks disciples who’ve wanted them to dump it all online. I fail to see what’s so controversial about what Holder said. It’s an obvious statement of fact. Shocking that a reporter who’s employed by The Newspaper of Record doesn’t see it.
In terms of censorship, when has Holder censored anything or anyone? Name one example. I’m honestly asking because I can’t think of any.
Let’s circle back to the “greatest enemy” thing. First of all, it never occurred to me before in this context, but anyone with a functional cerebral cortex has to admit that the greatest enemy to press freedom is the consolidation of the news media and its increasingly entrenched for-profit business model and therefore the corporate dependency on ratings and ad revenue. That’s the enemy. That’s what determines the nature of what gets reported. Not the Obama administration.
It doesn’t make any sense from a statistical perspective either. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there haven’t been any American journalists jailed by the Holder Justice Department. Meanwhile, the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press listed the following journalists who were arrested during both the Clinton and Bush administrations:
2006, Josh Wolf, San Francisco, Calif. Freelance video blogger initially jailed for a month when he refused to turn over a video tape that federal officials said contained footage of protesters damaging a police car. Wolf was released on bail on Sept. 1, but an appeals court panel confirmed the contempt order against him and Wolf returned to jail. He was finally released on April 3, 2007.
2005, Judith Miller, Washington, D.C.New York Times reporter jailed for refusing to testify against news sources in the investigation into leaks of a CIA operative’s name by White House officials. She spent 85 days in jail, and was released when she agreed to provide limited testimony to the grand jury regarding conversations with vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby without revealing her other sources.
2004, Jim Taricani, Providence, R.I. A WJAR television reporter obtained and aired in February 2001 a portion of the videotape showing a Providence city official accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The tape was sealed evidence in an FBI investigation into corruption by Providence officials, including former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. Taricani was subpoenaed, but refused to reveal his source and was found in civil contempt of court. After a failed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.), NBC, WJAR’s network, paid $85,000 in fines. In November, Taricani was found in criminal contempt of court and a month later, was sentence to six months home confinement. He was granted early release after being confined for four months.
2001, Vanessa Leggett, Houston, Texas. Author researching “true crime” book jailed for 168 days by federal judge for refusing to disclose her research and the identities of her sources to a federal grand jury investigating a murder. Leggett was freed only after the term of the grand jury expired. A subsequent grand jury indicted the key suspect in the murder without any need for her testimony. Leggett may again face a subpoena during his murder trial.
2000, Timothy Crews, Red Bluff, Calif.Sacramento Valley Mirror editor and publisher served a five-day sentence for refusing to reveal his confidential sources in a story involving the sale of an allegedly stolen firearm by a state patrol officer.
1996, Bruce Anderson, Ukiah, Calif. Editor of Anderson Valley Independent found in civil contempt, jailed for total of 13 days for refusing to turn over original letter to the editor received from prisoner. After a week, he tried to turn over the letter, but judge refused to believe it was the original because it was typed. After another week, judge finally accepted that the typewritten letter was the original.
1996, David Kidwell, Palm Beach County, Fla.Miami Herald reporter found in criminal contempt, sentenced to 70 days for refusing to testify for prosecution about jailhouse interview. Served 14 days before being released on own recognizance after filing federal habeas corpus petition.
1994, Lisa Abraham, Warren, Ohio. Newspaper reporter jailed from Jan. 19 to February 10, for refusing to testify before a state grand jury about jailhouse interview.
For the record, there are zero journalist arrests listed by RCFP for dates after 2006.
It’s astonishing that a man of Risen’s reputation and post could make such a wild claim in light of the facts. It’s further baffling given how Greenwald, Poitras and Gellman are still at large. Say what you will about their veracity or their goals, but there’s no justification whatsoever for arresting any of the now-famous NSA reporters covering the Snowden beat. Doing so, or prosecuting any journalist for what he or she reports, would be a major trespass against the Constitution, needless to say. And so not one of the Snowden reporters has been arrested or detained. Not one, in spite of the reality that they’ve all moved freely inside the United States for nearly two years now and very well could’ve been picked up at any time. But if indeed Obama was the “greatest enemy to press freedom,” wouldn’t Greenwald et al be first in line for arrest?
Yep, Risen’s cheese has permanently fallen off his cracker.
Adding… This is rich:
Obama Admin slammed as “The greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.” http://t.co/MWp9U1lJcm Hillary would be much worse.
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) February 18, 2015