May 23, 2024

Press Freedom

United States

United States October 28, 2011

H.E. Barack Obama
United States of America

The Hon. Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
United States of America

Dear Sirs:

We write to protest what seems to be a systematic vendetta against James Risen of the New York Times, and by extension, an attempt by your administration to undermine an essential element of freedom of the press.

The Justice Department announced on October 19 that it would appeal District Judge Leonie Brinkema’s rejection of the subpoena issued to James Risen of The New York Times to force him to testify in the trial of a former CIA intelligence officer on charges of leaking secret information.  This was the third subpoena issued to Mr. Risen in an attempt to get him to reveal the source for his account of a botched CIA attempt to sabotage Iran’s nuclear plans.

It is puzzling that the Obama administration, which came into office promising an open administration, should be so intent on trying to destroy a fundamental principle of the freedom of the press based on the First Amendment.  If journalists can not guarantee confidentiality to sources of importance, if troublesome information, the public will be deprived of much of the news it needs to know, especially news out of Washington, where the leak is a tool of politics.  Mr. Risen’s two Pulitzer Prizes for writing about sensitive matters are proof of the importance of guaranteeing confidentiality.  True, the right of a reporter to refuse to testify is a qualified privilege.  However, only in the case of a compelling interest – when a reporter’s testimony is essential – does that privilege cease.  In Mr. Risen’scase, no such compelling interest has been shown, as Judge Brinkema’s opinion makes abundantly clear.

Of course, if the federal government had a “shield law,” as some 40 states already have, then there probably would have been no subpoenas issued to Mr. Risen, or to the other journalists who have been ordered to testify in other cases.  The House of Representatives has approved a shield law twice, and the Senate Judiciary Committee gave its approval, but the bill never got further in the Senate, perhaps because of a curious lack of interest by the White House.  Now, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana has introduced a federal media shield bill for the third time.  We hope you will endorse it.

The Overseas Press Club of America, which has defended freedom of the press around the world for 66 years, strongly supports a federal shield bill and the decision of Judge Brinkema to reject your subpoena.  Surely, it is enough that three subpoenas have failed to force Mr. Risen to testify.  It is time to stop harassing him and to go back to the original promise of the Obama administration to make this a free and open administration.

Respectfully yours,
Jeremy Main
Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee


President Barack Obama
United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC  20500

The Hon. Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
United States of America
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC  20530

The Hon. Lanny A. Brewer                                 
Assistant Attorney General
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC  20530

The Hon. Patrick Leahy
United States Senate
437 Russell Senate Building
Washington, DC  20510

The Hon. Chuck Grassley
United States Senate
135 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

The Hon. Mike Pence
United States House of Representative
100 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC  20515

Mr. James Risen
The New York Times
1627 I Street, N.W.
Washington, DC  20006

Maria Otero
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC  20520