State Dept Launches 'Free the Press' Campaign Same Day DOJ Asks Supreme Court To Jail Reporterby Trevor Timm
Apr. 28, 2014
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 aboard. 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."
The government does mention it is working with Congress to craft a reporter's shield bill, which should give you some indication that the proposed bill is at best a watered-down, toothless version of what many courts have offered journalists for decades, and that would be no help to James Risen—the exact type of reporter that we should be attempting to protect the most. It's important to remember that in Risen's case, the government has previously analogized reporter's privilege to a criminal receiving drugs from someone and refusing to testify about it.
We'll have more on both the shield law and the Risen case soon, but it's clear that the US government still refuses to walk the walk when providing journalists the protections it says it believes in.
Oh, and while we're on the subject, maybe the State Department can use its "Free the Press" campaign to put pressure on one of its staunchest allies, the United Kingdom, which is using terrorism laws to suppress acts of journalism—something the State Department has condemned many times in the past.
Here's the full interaction between the AP's Matthew Lee and the State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki on James Risen and US press freedom at today's press briefing:
JENNIFER PSAKI: One more announcement for all of you: With World Press Freedom Day around the world on May 3rd, the department will launch its third annual Free the Press campaign later this afternoon in New York at the U.S. U.N. mission. Beginning on Monday and all of next week, we will highlight emblematic cases of imperiled reporters and media outlets that have been targeted, oppressed, imprisoned or otherwise harassed because of their professional work. The first two cases will be announced by Assistant Secretary -- Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski later at the -- at U.S. U.N. And we invite you of course to follow Tom at Twitter, who has -- on Twitter who, as you all know, was just confirmed several weeks, @Malinowski and to keep up with human rights issues on DRL's website.Reposted from Freedom of the Press Foundation