Fourteen Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists issued strong individual statements Monday that voiced emphatic support for New York Times reporter James Risen and urged the Justice Department to stop threatening him with harsh fines or imprisonment.
Many of the statements from the Pulitzer winners included scathing criticisms of the Obama administration for a range of policies related to freedom of the press.
The Justice Department is now considering whether to attempt to force Risen to testify against one of his alleged sources. Risen has vowed to continue to refuse to name a source for information about a bungled CIA operation in Iran that appeared in his 2006 book State of War.
On Aug. 14, the Justice Department is scheduled to receive a petition with 100,000 signers — “We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press” — while later in the day a news conference at the National Press Club will feature speakers from press freedom organizations backing the petition.
Below are the Pulitzer winners’ full statements that were released Monday afternoon.
“Preservation of a free, unfettered press has a long history in our country, allowing ordinary citizens to learn what their government is up to and to question actions carried out in their name. The Pentagon Papers, Watergate Scandal, My Lai Massacre, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and many other outrages would never have come to light in a country where reporters must fear imprisonment for doing their jobs. A big part of doing our jobs is giving our word to protect whistle blowers.
“James Risen has done his job for many years at the highest level. That’s why he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. More importantly, it’s why his sources trust him. I urge the Attorney General not to prosecute Mr. Risen for standing by his word to a source. Prosecuting Mr. Risen would not only send a chilling message to other journalists seeking to continue our country’s great tradition of freedom of the press. It would diminish America’s reputation in the eyes of the world as a place that values truth. Our country is better than that.”
Explanatory Reporting, 2011 / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“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?”
Investigative Reporting, 2013 / The New York Times
Investigative Reporting, 2009 / The New York Times
Public Service, 2004 / The New York Times
“If the U.S. government were so concerned about the information revealed in Jim Risen’s stunning chapter on a now 14-year-old CIA operation against Iran gone wrong, it would have moved quickly to resolve this matter eight years ago when it was first published. Instead, it seems obvious now that what officials really want is to hold a hammer over the head of a deeply sourced reporter, and others like him who try to hold the government accountable for what it does, even in secret.
“As Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama classified more and more of the government’s actions over the last 14 years, denying the public critical information to judge how its democracy is faring, it has fallen to reporters like Risen to keep Americans informed and to question whether a gigantic government in the shadows is really even a good idea. We will all be worse off if this case proceeds.”
Public Service, 2008 / The Washington Post
Beat Reporting, 2006 / The Washington Post
“I join the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Dow Jones & Co. Inc. and other news organizations in urging the Justice Department to withdraw the subpoena issued to James Risen in the Jeffrey Sterling case. I agree with them and others that a careful examination of the facts shows that a demand for his testimony is not justified.”
JAMES V. GRIMALDI
Investigative Reporting, 2006 / The Washington Post
(now with The Wall Street Journal)
“It is scandalous that James Risen faces jail time for doing what every good journalist working in the public interest does: protect confidential sources. President Obama and Attorney General Holder should halt all legal action against James to demonstrate that their ‘war on leaks’ is not an assault on the First Amendment and freedom of the press.”
JASON SZEP and ANDREW R.C. MARSHALL
International Reporting, 2014 / Reuters
“A vibrant democracy is not possible without a free press. Our nation needs journalists who are willing — and able — to reveal facts that make the government uncomfortable.”
Explanatory Reporting, 2005 / The Boston Globe
“As George Orwell said, ‘The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.’ America needs journalists to write the first draft of history without fear or favor, as my colleague James Risen has. It is deeply disturbing that the Obama Administration is pursuing Mr. Risen for doing his job.”
Beat Reporting, 2002 / The New York Times
I’ve known Jim Risen for more than 30 years, been his colleague at three different newspapers, and while I have respected him immensely at every step of the way, I’ve never admired him more than now. He is carrying the banner for every American journalist. And if he goes to jail, a good bit of our nation’s freedom will be locked away with him.
International Reporting, 2002 / The New York Times
I join my colleagues in supporting James Risen. The government should let him – and us – do our jobs without harassment.
Investigative Reporting, 2008 / The New York Times
National Reporting, 2005 / The New York Times
Specialized Reporting, 1988 / The Wall Street Journal
“The Obama administration has invoked prosecutorial discretion in other areas of law, claiming to serve the public interest. It should invoke prosecutorial discretion in the case of James Risen because reporters who cannot protect sources often cannot obtain information vital to the public interest. To see how bad things have become throughout the executive branch, google “Obama promised transparency.”
National Reporting, 2006 / Copley News Service
The Obama Administration does a grave disservice to our nation in attempting to force a national affairs reporter to name his sources.
This case involves James Risen, a reporter for the New York Times who had written a book, State of War, detailing a botched C.I.A. operation in Iran. The Justice Department subpoenaed Risen in 2008 to learn the identity of a whistleblower. Now, after six years of legal wrangling, Risen has run out of challenges – the U. S. Supreme Court has declined to intervene in the case, and Risen faces prison if he continues to decline to testify.
This is bad public policy on the part of the Obama Administration which, despite its denials, has more aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers than any recent administration.
As an investigative reporter virtually all of my career, I can attest that the vast majority of whistleblowers are citizens who want to improve the performance of their government. They generally are outraged to see the public being ripped off by lazy, entrenched bureaucrats who are being protected by a good-old-boy network.
Frustrated in their attempts to effect change within an unresponsive system, they reach out to reporters like me – and like Risen – to turn over the rocks and expose the slugs to the light of public scrutiny. They know, as I know, that such public scrutiny can force change even upon those who privately resist it.
Thus, the whistleblower and the investigative journalist are allied with the professed policy of the Obama Administration to improve the performance of the federal government, in this case to reduce the multiple failures of our so-called intelligence community.
But by threatening to send a journalist to prison for refusing to name his sources, the Obama Administration makes the whistleblowers more fearful to come forward, and it makes the journalists more hesitant to expose the failures of the government.
That’s just wrong. A government that resists constructive criticism is a government certain to face worsening problems.
Explanatory Reporting, 2000 / Great Falls (MT) Tribune
I wish to express my support for James Risen. Work like his that strengthens the public understanding of government is foundation of good journalism and a vital part of a healthy democracy.
National Reporting, 2014 / The Gazette (Colorado Springs)
No press shield, no freedom. It’s about the great values embodied in the First Amendment and whether they will be undermined at this moment in history or endure for future generations. The fate of James Risen and his anonymous source is our fate and our grand-children’s fate. Please, get it right.
National Reporting, 2006 / Copley News Service
The Institute for Public Accuracy is a nonprofit media watchdog consortium based in Washington, D.C. It was founded in mid-1997 by syndicated columnist and media critic Norman Solomon. IPA works to bring voices to the mainstream media that are commonly excluded or drowned out by government or corporate-backed institutions.