What others say: A victory for journalism

  • Monday, January 19, 2015 6:38pm
  • Opinion

As the world mourned Monday the Paris bloodshed and debated President Obama’s European absence, a critically important development took place in Washington.

James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, won his legal fight against the U.S. Department of Justice, which wanted him to disclose the sources he used in his newspaper and book coverage of a failed U.S. operation against Iran’s nuclear program.

Risen, backed by his employer and legal team, refused for more than seven years. Prosecutors believe the facts came from Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer on trial for giving Risen the information.

At stake was journalists’ ability to report free of government interference, a bedrock component of the First Amendment’s press freedoms.

Undoubtedly, Monday’s announcement that Risen won’t have to testify at Sterling’s trial is a victory for journalism and the public’s right to know about their government’s actions. Risen’s rights as a journalist should be considered rock-solid …

Perspective, as always, is important.

Before James Risen came Gareth Jones, a Welsh reporter who traveled to Soviet Ukraine and reported on the government-caused famine that killed millions in 1932 and 1933. Jones’ dispatches were carried by newspapers in Britain, Germany and America.

A 2009 story in the London Telegraph explains what happened next. The Soviets banned him and criticized his work’s authenticity. Two years after his reports were published, he died in China, killed by bandits. “Later investigations into the circumstances of his death uncovered a trail of Soviet involvement,” The Telegraph wrote.

Gareth Jones, journalist, risked — and lost — his life for writing about terribly important facts a government wanted suppressed.

By comparison, James Risen was fortunate. His life wasn’t in danger. But his journalistic ethics were, as were his legal rights should he refuse to testify and risk being held in contempt. The Obama administration’s crusade against leakers of government information scooped up Risen, which was absurd, making his a cause celebre for the lovers of journalistic freedom.

We cheer Risen’s victory. It was long overdue. But we’re not naive to think similar situations won’t arise again. Joel Kurtzberg, Risen’s attorney, said the Justice Department has, in essence, created court precedent that journalists may be forced to deal with for years to come. That’s chilling. “I worry about future administrations,” he said. “Now there’s bad precedent, and not every executive branch in the future will exercise their discretion the way this one did. It didn’t have to go this way.”

— Anniston (Alabama) Star,

Jan. 13

More in Opinion

An array of stickers awaits voters on Election Day 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The case for keeping the parties from controlling our elections

Neither party is about to admit that the primary system they control serves the country poorly

Voters fill out their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Alaska on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Voter tidbit: Important information about voting in the upcoming elections

Mark your calendar now for these upcoming election dates!

Larry Persily (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: State’s ‘what if’ lawsuit doesn’t much add up

The state’s latest legal endeavor came July 2 in a dubious lawsuit — with a few errors and omissions for poor measure

The entrance to the Homer Electric Association office is seen here in Kenai, Alaska, on May 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Speak up on net metering program

The program allows members to install and use certain types of renewable generation to offset monthly electric usage and sell excess power to HEA

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs bills for the state’s 2025 fiscal year budget during a private ceremony in Anchorage on Thursday, June 25, 2024. (Official photo from The Office of the Governor)
Alaska’s ‘say yes to everything’ governor is saying ‘no’ to a lot of things

For the governor’s purposes, “everything” can pretty much be defined as all industrial development

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

During a legislative hearing on Monday, CEO Deven Mitchell referred to controversy it’s created as “noise.”

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Crime pays a lot better than newspapers

I used to think that publishing a quality paper, full of accurate, informative and entertaining news would produce enough revenue to pay the bills

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict