James Risen on Why Journalists Must 'Fight Back'

James Risen (Photo: Alex Menendez/UCB Graduate School of Journalism)

James Risen on Why Journalists Must 'Fight Back'

Accepting award for journalistic courage, Risen declares, "If you’d rather live in a society in which you don’t know anything, then that’s the alternative."

Accepting Colby College's Elijah Parish Lovejoy award for courageous journalism on Sunday, New York Times investigative reporter James Risen had a message for other writers:

"Journalists have no choice but to fight back because if they don't, they will become irrelevant."

This statement comes from a journalist who has faced his share of fights.

The two-time Pulitzer Prize winning writer is currently facing threat of incarceration for refusing a Department of Justice order to take part in the prosecution of a CIA official who stands accused of revealing classified information about a U.S. bid to sabotage Iran's nuclear program--information that is exposed in his book State of War, which was published in 2006. Risen, who says the right to protect sources is critical to a free press, has repeatedly refused to take part in the prosecution, despite the legal efforts of the Bush and Obama administrations. The Supreme Court in June declined to consider an appeal from Risen, and his case remains unresolved.

Meanwhile, Risen has won numerous honors, as well as support from other Pulitzer Prize winners, for his courage. Awarded annually since 1952, the Lovejoy Award "honors the memory of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Colby's valedictorian in 1826 and an abolitionist newspaper publisher who was killed in Alton, Ill., in 1837 for condemning slavery and defending his right to publish," according to a statement from Colby College, a liberal arts university located in central Maine.

Speaking at an award ceremony at Lorimer Chapel at Colby College, Risen stated, "I would go to jail to protect the confidentiality of sources," local media reports. "Today, the U.S. government treats whistle-blowers as criminals, much like Elijah Lovejoy," he declared.

"I don't think any of this would be happening under the Obama administration if Obama didn't want to do it," Risen said. "I think Obama hates the press. I think he doesn't like the press and he hates leaks."

Risen said the only reason the public is aware of a host of government abuses, including secret prisons, is because whistle-blowers and courageous journalists have exposed them. "If you'd rather live in a society in which you don't know anything, then that's the alternative," he said.

"Jim Risen is an accomplished journalist with a record of important national security reporting," said Ann Marie Lipinski, chair of the Lovejoy selection committee and curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. "That reporting is threatened by government efforts to force the identification of unnamed sources critical to many investigative stories. Jim has demonstrated courage in his commitment to protect his sources and combat pressures that would undermine his work and that of other journalists."

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