National Press Club

National Press Club Pleased at Reported Decision in Risen Case

December 13, 2014 | By John M. Donnelly | jdonnelly@cq.com

Leaders of the National Press Club expressed relief at reports that the Justice Department will not force a reporter to disclose in court the identity of a confidential source.

At issue is the case of James Risen, a New York Times reporter who wrote a 2006 book, State of War, that disclosed classified information about a bungled CIA program to provide Iran false information about how to build an atomic weapon. U.S. prosecutors have charged that former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was the source of the leak, but they wanted Risen's testimony to confirm it. After court fights that lasted years, a judge had given the government until Dec. 16 to say whether it would force Risen to testify as to the identity of his source. News reports now indicate the Justice Department will not compel him to do so.

The National Press Club honored Risen in 2012 with its annual John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, in recognition of Risen's long-running resistance to unrelenting government pressure.

"The government absolutely has a right to prosecute those who leak classified information, but reporters sometimes have a duty to disclose it," said Myron Belkind, president of the National Press Club. "What's important is this: our society relies on the confidence that news sources have in their ability to remain anonymous if they need to without a fear of being outed later. That societal value outweighs the benefit of any particular prosecution. If news reports about the Risen case are accurate, Attorney General Eric Holder has opted to ultimately get that balance right, and we commend him for it."

In receiving the press freedom award two years ago, Risen said: "What it boils down to is whether or not we're going to have independent, aggressive investigative reporting in the United States, whether the government can tell us what we can write about national security or whether we in the press decide what we write about national security."

The National Press Club is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. Founded in 1908, it is located in Washington, D.C.

Through its Press Freedom Committee, the National Press Club speaks out on behalf of press freedom and transparency worldwide.