James Risen, New York Times Reporter, ‘Commanded’ to Out Source in CIA Case


New York Times reporter James Risen could be forced to testify in court about his CIA sources if the government has their way, thereby disregarding everything he’s supposed to be protected from as a journalist. Attorney General Eric Holder approved a subpoena served to Risen on Monday, the paper reported today, which tells Risen that he is “commanded” to appear in federal court at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, an ex-CIA man charged with leaking information to journalists. The Sterling case is “part of a wider crackdown by the Obama administration on officials accused of disclosing restricted information to journalists,” which the New Yorker covered last week by way of a similar case against Thomas Drake, a former employee of the NSA, though Risen’s involvement as a journalist adds another problematic media layer. More details inside Press Clips, our daily column on the subject.

Fighting It: Risen, the Times notes, successfully fought a similar subpoena last year during the grand jury indictment of Sterling.

“I am going to fight this subpoena,” Risen said. “I will always protect my sources, and I think this is a fight about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”

If the subpoena is upheld and Risen still refused to testify, he would be held in contempt and could be jailed, as Times reporter Judith Miller was back in 2005, for refusing to give up her source in the Valerie Plame leak.

The government contends that Risen got information about a CIA plan to meddle with Iran’s nuclear program “by sending a former Russian scientist to give it blueprints for a nuclear triggering device with a hidden design flaw.” (This sounds like a spy movie, sort of like the Plame stuff.) Risen did not use his info in the newspaper, but rather in a book.

The Times, like the New Yorker article linked above, notes that the Obama administration, which pledged transparency, has actually charged more people in leaking cases than any other presidential administration. If the relationship between journalists and their sources, whistleblowing or government transparency mean anything to you, both pieces are important reads.

Down With Bots: In lighter Times news, the Paper of Record has opted to turn off its automatic Twitter feed in favor of getting a human to do it — social media editors Liz Heron and Lexi Mainland will alternate, Romenesko reports — in an “experiment” mean to see if followers value human interaction.

The answer seems like an obvious yes, but professional tweeters for media properties should also be warned: humans have a much larger capacity to be annoying than RSS feeds. Retweeting everyone who compliments your publication or aimlessly adding hashtags does not a social media strategy make. And that’s just the beginning — but people (these days) usually get paid for this advice.

New View: The opinion arm of our mayor’s massive media company, Bloomberg L.P., launches tomorrow, featuring a bunch of highly influential, homogeneous pundits and journalists. The countdown to pissing off their boss — a politician — stars now.

Nostalgia: The world’s last handwritten newspaper, it’s fair to say, is probably not the future of print.

Graydon Carter, Renaissance Man: “How good of a painter is he?” the New York Times wonders about the Vanity Fair editor. “I could never make a living at it. But for an editor, I’m a good painter. For a painter, I’m not such a good painter.” And yet:

“Bella’s Umbrella” is a book he wrote for his two daughters — 18 and 2 and a half — that tells the story of a young girl who loses her umbrella, and how she gets it back.

Don’t let him sell himself short — he illustrated the book, too.