By Matthew Rothschild on May 07, 2014

James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winner at the New York Times, may face jail time on a federal contempt of court charge if he doesn’t release the identity of one of his confidential sources.

The Bush Administration’s Justice Department tried to pry the information out of him, but ultimately relented.

Now President Obama, who vowed to restore our civil liberties when he ran for the White House in 2008, is letting his Justice Department pursue Risen even more aggressively than Bush did.

The information concerns a source for a chapter in Risen’s terrific 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” That chapter dealt with a scheme to give the Iranians faulty blueprints for a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. government alleges that the source was Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA employee, whom the Justice Department is prosecuting under the Espionage Act.

Risen all along has invoked his privilege as a journalist under the First Amendment not to reveal his source. A lower court agreed with him, but an appellate court sided with Obama’s Justice Department. In a sharp dissenting opinion, Judge Roger Gregory, who was appointed both by President Clinton and by President George W. Bush, sided with Risen. Judge Gregory said the appellate court’s decision was “contrary to the will and wisdom of our Founders.”

In January Risen, appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. In his petition for a writ of certiorari, Risen wrote:

“If I am forced to testify, it will immediately and substantially harm my ability to gather newsworthy information” and “to secure the trust of sources in the future.”

He elaborated on how dangerous to all journalists this precedent would be: “Compelling journalists to testify about their conversations with confidential sources will inevitably hinder future attempts to obtain cooperation from those or other confidential sources. It creates the inevitable appearance that journalists either are or can be readily converted into an investigative arm of the government. This would seriously compromise journalists’ integrity and independence.”

He said the Obama Administration’s effort to go after him is part of its policy of “aggressively investigating whistleblowers and reporters in a way that will have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press in the United States.”

Obama’s Justice Department, in its brief to the Supreme Court, asserted that “no reporter’s privilege exists,” and that this case would be “an unsuitable vehicle for considering the existence of a qualified reporter’s privilege.”

If the Justice Department prevails and the Supreme Court decides not to take Risen’s appeal, he could be jailed for contempt of court. 

Risen has vowed to go to jail rather than reveal his source.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation has called the government's effort to force Risen to reveal a source “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”

The Progressive magazine, now merged with the Center for Media and Democracy, has joined with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), The Nation magazine, Roots Action, and others to insist on protection for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

A petition drive is under way to tell President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to back off.

Sign the petition "We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press."


Matthew Rothschild is senior editor of The Progressive magazine and author of “You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression.”

 

 

 

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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