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Column: The U.S. Government’s Hypocrisy When It Comes to Freedom of the Press

Reporter James Risen

By Trevor Timm
Freedom of the Press Foundation

The US State Department announced the launch of its third annual “Free the Press” campaign today, which will purportedly highlight “journalists or media outlets that are censored, attacked, threatened, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting.” A noble mission for sure. But maybe they should kick off the campaign by criticizing their own Justice Department, which on the very same day, has asked the Supreme Court to help them force Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter James Risen into jail.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports that the Justice Department filed a legal brief today urging the Supreme Court to reject Risen’s petition to hear his reporter’s privilege case, in which the Fourth Circuit ruled earlier this year that James Risen (and all journalists) can be forced to testify against their sources without any regard to the confidentiality required by their profession. This flies in the face of common law precedent all over the country, as well as the clear district court reasoning in Risen’s case in 2012. (The government’s Supreme Court brief can be read here.)

Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee commendably grilled the State Department spokesman about the contradiction of its press freedom campaign and the James Risen case at today’s briefing on the State Department initiative, repeatedly asking if the government considers press freedom issues in the United States the same way it does abroad. The full transcript is below.

As Gerstein noted, “The Justice Department brief is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists,” and if the Justice Department succeeds “it could place President Barack Obama in the awkward position of presiding over the jailing of a journalist in an administration the president has vowed to make the most transparent in history.”

To read full column click here. 


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