In Stand for Free Press, Pulitzer Journalists Declare Support for James Risen

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In Stand for Free Press, Pulitzer Journalists Declare Support for James Risen

"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," writes Washington Post investigative reporter Dana Priest.

Pulitzer-winning journalists warn that Department of Justice's pursuit of James Risen's testimony will cause lasting damage to the state of journalism. (Photo: Alex Menendez/UCB Graduate School of Journalism)

Fourteen Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists on Monday issued statements declaring their support for New York Times reporter James Risen, who has vowed to go to jail rather than reveal a confidential source despite the U.S. Justice Department's dogged insistence on his testimony. 

Risen has been ordered by the Justice Department (DOJ) to testify in the prosecution of a CIA officer accused of leaking classified information about U.S. efforts to undermine Iran's nuclear program, information that Risen revealed in his 2006 book State of War.

According to fellow reporters, Risen's case has in many ways already done "substantial and lasting damage" to the state of journalism in the United States and threatens the very notion of our First Amendment right to Freedom of the Press. The statements were released ahead of a Thursday press conference at the National Press Club during which many of the major U.S. press freedom organizations will deliver a petition with over 100,000 signatures calling on the DOJ to drop their subpoena.

In early June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene on Risen's behalf, despite his claim that his First Amendment rights were violated.

"Enough is enough," says New York Times reporter David Barstow, 2013 and 2009 Pulitzer winner for Investigative Reporting and 2004 winner for Public Service. "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."

Barstow writes that he's "felt the chill first hand" with trusted sources now scared to communicate with him, forcing him and fellow investigative reporters 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?" he concludes.

Investigative reporter Dana Priest—who has won two Pulitzer awards, including one in 2006 for exposing CIA "black sites" and other controversial aspects of the government's "War on Terror"—argues that if the U.S. government were so concerned about the information revealed in Risen's book, "it would have moved quickly to resolve this matter" when it was first published.

"Instead," Priest writes, "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," she continues, adding: "We will all be worse off if this case proceeds."

The rest of the statements, compiled by Roots Action, are available to read here.

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