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Times Reporter Plans to Take Fight to the Supreme Court

October 18, 2013

By Margaret Sullivan

 James Risen

James Risen

For James Risen, an investigative reporter for The Times, the bad news just keeps on coming. When I wrote about him in late July, a federal appeals panelhad just ruled against him in a case related to a leak investigation.

Now, the full Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has decided – with a discouraging 13-to-1 vote on Tuesday – not to reconsider that opinion.

It has been a long haul for Mr. Risen, and his options are narrowing. But on Wednesday, he seemed undaunted. Answering my questions, he wrote:

I’m determined to keep fighting. My lawyers and I are planning to take this to the Supreme Court. I am not discouraged at all, because I have actually been encouraged by the broad level of support that I have received. I think a lot of people now recognize the significance of this case. I will go to jail if necessary to keep up the fight.

Mr. Risen, who works out of Washington, has refused to testify in the government’s case against Jeffrey Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with leaking secret information about a secret C.I.A. program to interfere with what many believe to be Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

For those of us who care deeply about the role of a free press in informing citizens about their government ‘s activities, the prosecution of reporters who refuse to give up their confidential sources is wrongheaded. That crucial protection is something that almost every state in the union has seen fit to provide – for very good reasons. But it continues to be missing at the federal level.

As the Obama administration has engaged in a historic crackdown on leakers, reporters have found it harder and harder to do their jobs. That “chilling effect” on news-gathering is harmful to the way the nation’s founders intended our democracy to work.

I don’t know what would happen with Mr. Risen’s case at the highest level, if the Supreme Court decides to take the case, which is far from certain.  The signs, so far, are not particularly good. But, as a citizen and a journalist, I appreciate his principled stand and his fighting spirit. New York Times.


Updated, Oct. 17 | As noted by a commenter to this post, Mr. Risen’s reporting on the secret C.I.A. program was published not in The Times but in his 2006 book, “State of War.”

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