News Release

Administration Attacks on Free Press: Succeeding Where Nixon Failed?

On Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Obama administration that New York Times writer and author James Risen must testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent charged with leaking information on an apparently bungled CIA operation that Risen reports led to an increase in nuclear weapons-building knowledge by Iran.

Risen will speak at the “Whistleblowers, Journalists, and the New War Within” news conference at the National Press Club on Thursday, July 25 organized by the Government Accountability Project. He will appear along with NSA whistleblowers William Binney, Thomas Drake, J. Kirk Wiebe and others.

Closing arguments are scheduled in the Bradley Manning trial later this week. He is being prosecuted for leaking information, including the “Collateral Murder” video, to WikiLeaks. The prosecution has asserted it would prosecute Manning if he leaked the material to the New York Times or other establishment media instead of WikiLeaks.

MARCY WHEELER, emptywheel at gmail.com, @emptywheel
A noted blogger on legal issues, Wheeler writes at EmptyWheel.net. Her recent pieces include “Will Keith Alexander FINALLY Tell the Full Truth about the Section 215 Dragnet in Today’s Secret Emergency Hearing?” and “Fourth Circuit Guts National Security Investigative Journalism Everywhere It Matters.”

TREVOR TIMM, trevor at pressfreedomfoundation.org, @TrevorTimm
Timm is co-founder and executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He recently wrote the piece “Court Guts Reporter’s Privilege in One of the Most Significant Press Freedom Cases in Decades,” which states: “Recognizing that robust and uninhibited newsgathering is essential to a free press, many courts have established a common law ‘reporter’s privilege’ which protects journalists from having to testify about the identity of their sources in all but the most extreme cases. [Friday], in the most significant reporter’s privilege decision in decades, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals eviscerated that privilege, in the jurisdiction where it is needed most.” He also wrote the piece “White House Shield Bill Could Actually Make It Easier For the Government to Get Journalists’ Sources.”

JAMES GOODALE, via Devi Shah, dkshah at debevoise.com
Goodale represented the New York Times in the landmark Pentagon Papers case, when the Nixon White House attempted to stop the Times from publishing top secret documents about the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. Goodale just wrote the book Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles.

Goodale has been addressing Obama administration targeting journalists. See his interview with Columbia Journalism Review where he criticizes the government on the James Risen case.

Many have commented on the alleged irony of the New York Times reporter Risen verdict coming shortly after Holder spoke in favor of a so-called reporter “shield law” proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer. But Goodale has said of the bill: “I just thought that was quite ridiculous, because the bill … has an exception for national security. In other words, if you’re a reporter and you’re talking about national security, the law doesn’t apply. … So, Obama puts it out, thinking the public doesn’t know what I know, and I’m really going to be good to reporters, but it doesn’t protect them at all [in cases of national security].”

In a recent article, Goodale wrote regarding the case of the Obama administration labeling Fox News reporter James Rosen a criminal co-conspirator: “Asking courts to treat journalists as criminals under the Espionage Act has only been asserted once before Holder started using it. President Richard M. Nixon used it against New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, who obtained the Vietnam archives from Daniel Ellsberg. Following the Pentagon Papers case, Nixon convened a grand jury to indict Sheehan for conspiring to cause the leak of the Pentagon Papers. Nixon failed in this effort, and the grand jury disbanded after 17 months.

“The difference between Nixon and Holder is that Nixon failed in his effort to treat Sheehan as a co-conspirator. Nixon therefore could not create the precedent that reporters could be treated as criminals. Holder has. He should resign.”

Regarding the Manning prosecution and the possibility of prosecuting Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, Goodale says: “Wake up! There’s danger out there. You may not like Assange, but wake up! The First Amendment is really going to be damaged, if Obama goes forward [prosecuting Assange] and succeeds, he will have succeeded where Nixon failed.”