National Press Club

National Press Club backs reporter under pressure to divulge confidential Source

October 17, 2013 | By John M. Donnelly |

The National Press Club expressed Thursday its support for a New York Times reporter who continues to fight a government attempt to force him to reveal in court the identity of a confidential source.

The National Press Club honored the reporter, James Risen, with a John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award last year. The award recognized Risen for his reporting work and for resisting for years efforts by two successive administrations to compel him to testify in their case against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer who's accused of leaking classified information about an unsuccessful CIA operation in Iran.

Risen's refusal to testify was upheld by a U.S. District Court. But it was reversed in July by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. And this week, a panel of judges in that court rebuffed his request for reconsideration of his appeal. Now, Risen says, his lawyers intend to request that the Supreme Court hear his case.

"The National Press Club supports James Risen's courageous effort to push back against an ill-advised government campaign to force him to testify about a confidential source," said the Club's president, Angela Greiling Keane. "The U.S. government is chilling the flow of information to the public by prosecuting government officials for speaking to the press, by conducting surveillance of reporters and by trying to intimidate some of them into divulging their sources' names. Risen and the New York Times are right to fight this. And we hope the Supreme Court agrees to consider their case."

The appellate court's ruling in July was 2-1 against Risen. And on Oct. 15, 13 judges on a panel of 14 ruled against Risen's request for a rehearing. In both cases, the lone judge to dissent was Robert L. Gregory.

In his July dissent, Gregory wrote: "The majority [opinion] exalts the interests of the government while unduly trampling those of the press and, in doing so, severely impinges on the press and the free flow of information in our society."

In his dissent earlier this week, Gregory wrote: "For public opinion to serve as a meaningful check on government power, the press must be free to report to the people the government's use (or misuse) of that power. Denying reporters a privilege in the criminal context would be gravely detrimental to our great nation."