A Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter at the center of a closely-watched legal issue over confidential sources accused President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with showing contempt against the fourth estate.
At an event on Sunday, James Risen said he felt Obama “hated the press” and that Holder’s job was to shield the president from media criticism.
Risen faces possible jail time for refusing to comply with a May 2011 subpoena that seeks the identity of a confidential source who is said to have provided the journalist with classified information for a 2006 book. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has already brought a case against Jeffrey Stirling, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who is thought to have supplied the information. Risen has refused to identify Stirling or any other person as the source.
On Sunday, Risen said members of the Obama administration — including the president himself — sought out to stifle reporting on national security issues that the administration considers unflattering.
“I don’t think any of this would be happening under the Obama administration if Obama didn’t want to do it,” Risen said according to a local newspaper article, adding that he feels Holder’s role is to shield the president from media criticism.
“I think Obama hates the press,” Risen said. “I think he doesn’t like the press and he hates leaks.”
Risen challenged the administration’s protection of information under the guise of homeland security, something that many other journalists have done in the past — and especially so since last summer’s mass leak of classified information by former National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“I think it’s one of these things that the government has gotten into the habit of, crying wolf constantly,” Risen said, “They’ve lost a lot of credibility on these issues.”
Risen made the comments at Colby College shortly after accepting the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism.
At the event, Risen re-iterated that he would be willing to go to jail to protect his source should the DOJ pursue the issue in the Stirling case further.
Last year, Risen asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up an appeal in his case, arguing that reporters had a First Amendment right to protected communication with unidentified sources. The DOJ encouraged the Court to reject Risen’s appeal, stating that journalists enjoy no such privilege.
In June, the Court said it would not hear Risen’s case, kicking the decision back to a lower court that found the journalist had to comply with the subpoena. Holder reacted by saying that “as long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.”
Last month, Holder said the DOJ had no intention of jailing Risen. The promise isn’t ironclad, though, and prosecutors presumably reserve the right to change their mind at any time.
Waterville Morning-Sentinel: James Risen accepts Lovejoy award for journalism