Risen: Obama administration is this generation’s ‘greatest enemy of press freedom’

“It won’t take me long to alienate everyone in the room,” Jeffrey Toobin told an audience in New York Friday. “For better or worse, it has been clear there is no journalistic privilege under the First Amendment.”

The New Yorker staff writer and CNN commentator was appearing on a panel as part of a George Polk Awards conference called Sources and Secrets at the Times Center. A lot has already been written about the conference (links below), so I’m going to pull out a theme that appears again and again in my notes: How much protection do reporters really have with regard to sources, and how much, if any, protection would a federal shield law give them?

New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order that he testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, opened the conference earlier by saying the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.” Anyone journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, “will be punished.”

The administration’s aggressive prosecutions have created “a de facto Official Secrets Act,” Risen said, and the media has been “too timid” in responding.

Toobin appeared on a panel that followed, moderated by Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak, who announced that if he weren’t a paragon of journalistic detachment, he’d say “the persecution of James Risen is a scandal.” The attorney Laura Handman noted that the U.S. Department of Justice’s new guidelines for accessing journalists’ records carve out a big space for the government to decide what constitutes “ordinary newsgathering.”

The panel mentioned Risen and Fox journalist James Rosen, who an FBI agent suggested was a “co-conspirator” in another leak investigation. Toobin noted that the number of journalists actually prosecuted by the Obama administration is zero. Not all leaks are equal, and not all should go unpunished, he argued, citing the investigation that snagged Rosen in particular. After Liptak said government officials sometimes mention that they’ve been elected and journalists haven’t, Toobin said: “The answer to your question is quite clear: The Constitution elected us.”

“So you’re willing to concede that the First Amendment protects the press?” Liptak asked Toobin, to some laughs.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer told the room he expects a federal shield bill to pass this year. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin wanted to narrow the definition of a journalist from his original bill, he said, so people who write for free may not get as much protection under it as journalists who get paid for their work would. But, he said, the legislation has a “safety valve” that would afford protection if a judge decides whether any work in question is “in the interest of justice.” Schumer also called the new DOJ guidelines “not good enough” but offered “some improvement.”

Under the bill, “Risen would have a day in court,” Schumer said. Marshall Project Editor-in-Chief Bill Keller asked the senator whether Glenn Greenwald would be protected under his bill. Schumer said he “couldn’t give you an answer off the top of my head.” He left, and a panel discussed the prospects of his bill. A shield law would undermine the government’s ability to investigate leaks, Kenneth L. Wainstein, a former assistant attorney general for national security and Homeland Security adviser, said. Prosecutions, Wainstein said, are meant to “deter other would-be leakers.”

McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay said he no longer emails sources and that a lot of the investigation work on McClatchy’s story about the CIA possibly spying on a Senate committee was done by a 22-year-old who “doorstepped” committee members. “I know where a lot of payphones are in Washington, D.C.,” Landay said. Journalist Quinn Norton said she’d like to see legislation that recognizes the techniques of surveillance themselves create “a chilling effect on journalism.”

The government was a little outmuscled in the conference. In addition to Wainstein, its point of view was mostly carried forward on panels that included Robert L. Deitz, a former NSA general counsel and senior councillor to the CIA and Robert S. Litt, the general counsel of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. When Bob Woodward asked Deitz if leaks have imperiled the American people, he said yes. Sometimes, he said, “the leak is the harm.” By definition, he said, many of the leaks discussed are prima facie felonies. How do you put a line around one felony and say don’t investigate it, he asked. The Times’ Mark Mazzetti asked him about leaks that come from the administration. Those make the administration lose the high ground, Deitz replied.

Litt said the press “does publish things from my perspective that risk hurt” to national security. “We ban drunk driving because drunk driving increases the risk of accidents,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that any particular drunk driver causes an accident.”

“Is journalism drunk driving?” New Yorker Editor David Remnick asked Litt. “No,” he replied.

Some other coverage of the conference:

“The Story of Our Lives” at the Sources and Secrets Conference (Hamilton Nolan, Gawker)

Sources and secrets (Ben Adler, CJR)

Chuck Schumer: Shield bill could pass Senate (Tal Kopan, Politico)

Chuck Schumer, Author Of Media Shield Bill: It’s ‘Probably Not Enough’ To Protect Glenn Greenwald (Donna Cassata)

Is Revealing Secrets Akin to Drunk Driving? Intelligence Official Says So (Dan Froomkin, The Intercept)

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  • http://www.sosbeevfbi.com geral sosbee

    Support the *cia/fbi and become an accessory to their assassinations & other atrocities.

    Police State:


    Tsunami of corruption inundates USA and washes through the world.




  • http://www.sosbeevfbi.com geral sosbee

    See yourself and your murderous friends here, little fellow:


  • Len LaBrecque

    Journalists are what got this man elected, and keep shielding him now!

  • reason1984

    We’re on a slippery slope to the Iranian model of “Free Speech.”

  • Steve Bates

    “most ^undeservedly^ uncritical”

    There. Fixed it for you.

  • MarVista509

    He is more right than wrong, but I do not look at it from his personal point of view, because Risen compromised national security with a bunch of stories which gave a clue to adversaries how to fight their way better, or defeat the U.S in certain areas, during WW2 it was known as treason, today the call it Pulitzer, Nobel, etc…Obama is compromising U.S national security an d that of U.S allies on a daily basis, so indeed one could question his judgement, but what irks me is the phony posturing by this team of spineless NYT reporters who are binging on buyer’s remorse, he could have offered his analytical services in 2007 when it was becoming clear that a street hustler, a Putney Swope was on a quest qith a certified , genuine Communist-David Axelrod, pink diaper, N.Y, mentored by hard core Communists (Canter-Chicago), were planning a move, nothing was done other that numerous songs of praises, they editors were drunk with a thrilling story about a “man of color” who will become the next president after the odious years of that stuttering George Bush and his NeoCons. They all bought into this rubbish now they got to eat from the indigestible menu that they prepared. The did zero investigation, any moron checking the pages of the internet, can find at least 10 sources with reliable data that could produce enough data to write exactly the opposite story of every article the NYT published on this Choom president. This is the root of their problem, a bias that own a paper. An agenda that operates a big megaphone, but whats about some serious journalism, that s not even in the toilet-it’s gone by the sewer.

  • deliaruhe

    It is a very spooky experience to be immersed in a research project on the first half of the violent 20th century at the same time as trying to follow this surveillance scandal in the papers. I know that Americans are too fond of indiscriminately throwing around the Hitler and Nazi labels and thus have really spoilt any possibility of learning anything useful from a time when many continental Europeans were so fed up and disgusted with their democratic governments and their capitalist regimes that they were willing to go for something more authoritarian. The US looks more like the Weimar Republic every day.

  • jhsif

    He is also a BLACK illegal immagrint from Kenya, and the SECOND black president since Billy the CLinton!

  • MarVista509

    You might be interested to know that this is only part of the story, she also got fed with classified material by another nation which had interest to shape certain outcomes, regardless of the official position at the time of the “leader” who was against going to Iraq, I have no idea what they showed her, she does not read or speak the languages required, but I hear in passing that she was shown certain documents, I know the street and the area where they took her. There is no miss here. However, having been in this tawdry business for 4 decades, I personally think she is a complete air-head, so we do not have here a case of inconsistencies, she did what she thought was right for the NYT and she was abandoned and found a warm place to occupy at Fox, she never said one thing of any interest since she came out of federal pen.

  • MarVista509

    he has a point, but the entire NYT team is 6 years
    behind on serious reporting on Obama
    Utterly deficient
    It is a rah rah team
    Suddenly the got stung and don t know what to do
    It is not a serious outfit
    It is a well paid faculty lounge beached on
    Eight Avenue.
    I canceled the deliveries some 10 years ago,
    never felt better.
    My first inking that they were not on the level was
    when they ditched Ray Bonner in El Salvador, 1980,
    I was there, w/another name, operating and he was
    a good man, they succumbed to pressure
    by am Under Secretary of State Anderson, they
    literally put this good man to pasture,
    (while his wife was than reporting for them as well)
    he did nothing wrong
    he brought them a major scoop, he was toast
    they are not honest people, they like to shape public
    opinion, not to report facts, but use information to
    influence public perception
    what ever turns on the editor, is what you read,
    it is a sinister outfit….with decades of pure deception
    under their belt, from the Ukraine genocide during the 30′s
    the Holocaust, AIDS to the sudden emergence of Obama as a serious
    candidate, not seriously checked out, to their
    questionable quest to repair the planet’s global warming, cooling,
    etc…It is a feel good, trendy outfit, nothing to do with the rest of the country. Just look at who is managing this disreputable rag!
    Washed out Socialists form the 60′s, or on top a British wreck from the BBC, a certified “Socialist”…what is it about? Is America really a Socialist country?

  • ChasInNJ

    The NYTimes was also home to Judith Miller, who dutifully relayed “Saddam Has WMDs!” disinformation spoon-fed to her by the Bush/Cheney government.

  • ChasInNJ

    The major media are not pro-Democrat so much as pro-Big Government. Ronald Reagan received the most uncritical coverage of any US head of state.

  • http://www.fark.com/ Two Wolves

    The greatest enemy of the Republic since Jimmy Carter
    Worse than Bill Clinton
    FartBongo wants to start a race war

    Yeah, I read WND and Daily caller for the fact based tripe they shovel out. They also enjoy using ultimate adjectives.

    I believe Woodward is this generation’s greatest threat to a viable Fourth Estate.

  • AmosJones

    How long have you been a paranoid fruit loop?

  • brickman

    Hey, didn’t Bill O’Reilly once win a Polk Award?:)

  • Max_1

    Is Risen incorrect?

  • Max_1

    “The Third Time Means Real Change”

  • MarVista509

    where has he been in 2008? where was the management of the N Y Times? they anointed the fella before bothering to check him out! Suddenly they got a buyer’s remorse. Journalism at the NYT as been awol since the early 30′s when their hack went to falsify the genocide against the peasants in Ukraine, cheering Stalin.The were absent on the Holocaust, burying the stories on page 11, page 20, bottom of the page, side of the page, no page, as they did with AIDS, first story-1981, back of the sports section, page 11, 1/2 column. Why are the nabobs at Poynter so mystified about it all, this is one crappy news organization whose staff is made of sowrn, deranged lefties. 80% of U.S journalists, producers, editors, writers are Lefties, they wanted a democrat, they got one. Now eat it.

  • Hypernonpartisan

    Agreed. I see Ds and Rs as roughly equally bad, but at least officials with Rs next to their names receive hostile oversight from the press. The D press has given me solid reasons to lean more R.

  • http://www.sosbeevfbi.com geral sosbee

    As I do not expect a near term solution to the madness of our times, I hold out no false hope to those of us under attack. The truth is simple: *One cannot reasonably expect the homicidal sociopaths of government (and private groups) who are paid to torture and kill to stop it; **the congress is fully aware of the illegal devastation of lives and yet does nothing;*** the courts are equally corrupt, morose and cowardly and do less than nothing to address plaintiff’s legitimate pleadings. So, unless the general population removes the government officials in the three branches of government, I see zero chance in my lifetime of a remedy.

    The executive branch of this government is the most murderous in the history of mankind.

    Barbara Boxer, Senator- Her Assistant states, ” The only way to stop the fbi campaign against you is by an act of Congress.”
    I was threatened and harassed by the evil and mind controlled judge who heard my request for a temporary injunction against the fbi.

    The program against Targets is supported by an invisible public policy where police & civilians are allowed by a kind of emerging custom to torture and kill (or force into suicide) the helpless victim. This sorry state of affairs is called …the law of custom (where crimes against Targets are deemed virtuous) and such policy supersedes all other law. In other words barbaric madness, not jurisprudence, is allowed to rule society when convenient for the tyrannical government.


  • AubryJ

    That was disgusting, so naturally it made me laugh

  • Diggsc

    After sucking Obama’s d1ck for five years, they get surprised when unloads on them?

  • Justwaitinforchange

    The federal shield law is Orwellian in nature (as most federal laws are these days). It is the equivalent of the hug and “baby I love you” after the abuser smacks around a woman…

  • solly

    A lot of it has to do with the fact they let him push them around. They aren’t critical of him. They have given him a pass. And now that strategy is coming back to bite them.

  • Jeff6times7

    Maybe I’m being pedantic but Toobin’s drunk driving analogy is not appropriate at least for the reason that a drunk driver who does not have an accident will continue in that practice at least until an accident occurs. I wonder how many minutes he practiced law?

  • AubryJ

    I wonder how it feels to be able to report the news and not even have a spine hmmm…..

  • AubryJ

    By the way, I get my news from the local used car salesman since I trust him more than the so-called press!

  • AubryJ

    You got him elected so enjoy the view!

  • submandave

    Putting my tin foil hat on, it seems to me that harassing and threatening (but not actually prosecuting) several journalists is a good way to generate a perceived need for something like a federal “shield” law simply to officially get the government in the business of deciding who is a “real” journalist.

    Exactly what part of “Congress shall make NO law…” is unclear?

  • PittsburghTiger

    I think it is extremely scary that Congress wants to deem who is worthy of any kind of protection.

  • Wareagle82

    schadenfreude on parade. Gee, foreseeable consequences are foreseeable. This is what you get for blind support of a candidate who told you exactly who and what he is, things you chose to ignore in service to projecting YOUR aspirations onto him.

  • JimmyChonga

    Personally, I’m glad the Presstitutes are reaping exactly what they have sowed.

  • ThomasD

    They just want special protection for their cozy guild.

    A free press is not a privilege for some, it is a right of all.

    Not that Toobin would admit it.

  • Justin Vest

    The narrative surrounding the Obama administration’s relationship with the press, when actually discussed by journalists, is usually about these isolated leaks cases. I’m much more interested in this White House’s unparalled secrecy, and how deftly they’ve manipulated the press to be complicit in their propaganda. Most journalists, except for the big-balled few, don’t want to talk about it. I don’t know why. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

  • Rob

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
    religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging
    the freedom of speech, or of the press;”

    What greater abridgement of the freedom of the press could there be, but to narrowly define who is able to report newsworthy items, in an underhanded attempt to hide the government from real scrutiny.

    Tyranny is alive.

  • caradoc

    Federal “shield” bill is a scam. It’s just a way to sell gullible people on the idea of letting the Government decide who is a journalist and who isn’t. Once they do that, you’re licensure will depend on saying what you’re told.

  • jack_foobar

    Crocodile tears from the former 4th estate and current 5th column. Burn you NAZI donkey fluffers. PS- NAZI’s aren’t ‘right wing extremists’ – igt@rded aholes.

  • Don Lovell

    Why would you listen to a bunch of pseudo-journalists after years of misreporting and covering up for democrats. I don’t need or believe anything they write or say so I could not care less if they feel they are getting screwed around by Obama. They are all dead heads to me and should be put out to pasture.

  • MoReport

    How do you put a line around one felony and say don’t investigate it, he asked.
    Ask Attorney General Eric Holder about selective enforcement of the law – if you dare.

    Freedom of the Press covers all citizens, just as surely as does freedom of speech – Oh, wait…

    Short of shutting down the Internet (which Obama et. al. are desperate enough to try)
    there is no way to cloud the transparency of news which leaves TPTB invisible now,
    with no place to hide. Sooner or later they will commit some abuse of authority which
    causes too much harm to too many people (ACA may do the trick).

  • Nate Whilk

    They’d have to give the first one to themselves, just for Walter Duranty.

  • BrainBrian

    BS. Greatest enemy to press freedoms have been the press itself. Just ask Sharyl Attkisson

  • Snake Plissken

    Nothing has changed. They’re like the abused wife who always goes back to the abusive husband. They complain about being shut out of events, or of Administrative snooping, but quickly fall back into line as soon as a smile is flashed in their direction. Carter’s pollster Pat Caddell with his remark that the media has become the enemy of the American people.

  • Obama Lied People Died

    Had the media actually vetted Barack rather than swoon over him, coddle him, and usher him in on a red carpet, we wouldn’t have this problem. The press is complicit in this.

  • Good_Lt

    We’d see articles slugged, “Why Obama Needs a Third Term,” and “The Antiquated Notion of Presidential Term Limits,” and “Why We Should Abolish Congress,” and “The Modern Presidency is Too Big for Two Terms,” and the like.

  • Good_Lt

    The press has quite willingly allowed itself to be corrupted by the Democrat Party for decades. There’s a reason that a revolving door exists between the Obama Administration and many mainstream news outlets. Jay Carney worked for Time. Chris Matthews was a ‘Tip O’Neill chief of staff. Stephanopolous was known as one of Clinton’s “masters of disaster.” Numerous Washington Post and other reporters have gone on to join their administration in what we observers like to call ‘making it official’ with the Obama administration, and many more in the media openly and actively propagandize for the Democrat Party from their media perches on a daily basis (Greg Sargent, Nick Kristoff, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Charles Blow, E.J. Dionne, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Josh Micah Marshall, etc – the list is for all intents and purposes endless). All Democrats.

    The reason for this is that most journalists are Democrats. It’s really not more complicated than that. They’re hacks, they’re liars for their party, and they think you’re too stupid to notice.

    And you know what? After re-electing a president who straight-up lied to everyone’s face dozens and dozens of times (and continues to) about the stated effects of the ACA during the 2012 election cycle (with their press toadies all cheerleading and repeating the lies the whole time), they might be right.

  • bflat879

    The press is wire-thin close to giving away all their protections because they turned themselves into the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party. Read the article. You have Chuck Schumer promising a federal shield bill will pass this year. Meanwhile, Dick Durban and Diane Feinstein want to narrow the definition of a journalist. So, the Democrats will shield you, as long as you’re one of their designated “reporters”.

    “Congress shall make no law………..” is the only important factor here and outlets, like the NY Times and Washington Post have squandered that. Should anyone be willing to allow them to gut it by not paying attention and becoming a propaganda arm of the U.S. Gov ernment, when it’s in Democrats hands?

    Our illustrious free press should be ashamed of their conduct. If the thoroughly indoctrinated journalists, who are now graduating from schools that pose as schools of journalism, want to gut the first amendment, let them specify, they are only willing to gut it for themselves and leave that freedom to all other “real” journalists.

  • http://www.washingtonnearsider.com Washington Nearsider

    They’d all support him if he simply claimed a third term as well.

  • PFPorlock

    Well after all, if you have the most transparent administration in history you don’t need a free press to report on it.

  • JoeDrager

    Interesting article. But, there is not a single one of these ‘journalists’ who would not vote for Obama if he chose to run for a third term.

  • Truth Gun

    Cicero said it best…..

    “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.”