Risen: Obama Administration is this Generation’s ‘Greatest Enemy of Press Freedom’Posted: March 24, 2014
Andrew Beaujon writes: “It won’t take me long to alienate everyone in the room,” Jeffrey Toobin told an audience in New York Friday. “For better or worse, it has been clear there is no journalistic privilege under the First Amendment.”
“The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.’ Anyone journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, ‘will be punished.'”
The New Yorker staff writer and CNN commentator was appearing on a panel as part of a conference called Sources and Secrets at the Times Center. A lot has already been written about the conference (links below), so I’m going to pull out a theme that appears again and again in my notes: How much protection do reporters really have with regard to sources, and how much, if any, protection would a federal shield law give them?
New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order that he testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, opened the conference earlier by saying the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.” Anyone journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, “will be punished.”
The administration’s aggressive prosecutions have created “a de facto Official Secrets Act,” Risen said, and the media has been “too timid” in responding.
Toobin appeared on a panel that followed, moderated by Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak, who announced that if he weren’t a paragon of journalistic detachment, he’d say “the persecution of James Risen is a scandal.” The attorney Laura Handman noted that the U.S. Department of Justice’s new guidelines for accessing journalists’ records carve out a big space for the government to decide what constitutes “ordinary newsgathering.”
The panel mentioned Risen and Fox journalist James Rosen, who an FBI agent suggested was a “co-conspirator” in another leak investigation. Toobin noted that the number of journalists actually prosecuted by the Obama administration is zero. Not all leaks are equal, and not all should go unpunished, he argued, citing the investigation that snagged Rosen in particular. After Liptak said government officials sometimes mention that they’ve been elected and journalists haven’t, Toobin said: “The answer to your question is quite clear: The Constitution elected us.”
“So you’re willing to concede that the First Amendment protects the press?” Liptak asked Toobin, to some laughs.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer told the room he expects a federal shield bill to pass this year. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin wanted to narrow the definition of a journalist from his original bill, he said, so people who write for free may not get as much protection under it as journalists who get paid for their work would….Read more….