More Than a Dozen Pulitzer Winners Call on the Justice Dept to End its Pursuit of James Risen

More Than a Dozen Pulitzer Winners Call on the Justice Dept to End its Pursuit of James Risen
August 11, 2014

UPDATE: The list has increased to twenty Pulitzer winners after adding statements from David Rohde, Michael LaForgia and Will Hobson, David Cay Johnston, Eric Lichtblau, and Dan Fagin.


Today, fourteen Pulitzer Prize winners have issued statements in support of journalist James Risen and in protest of the Justice Department's attempt to force Risen to testify against his sources. Risen has vowed to go to jail rather than give up his source, but the Justice Department has steadfastly refused to drop its pursuit. On Thursday, many of the major US press freedom organizations will hold a press conference in Washington DC and deliver a petition with over 100,000 signatures to the Justice Department, calling on them to do the same.

Below are the statements from the fourteen Pulitzer Prize winners. Special thanks to Norman Solomon, co-founder of Roots Action, for gathering them all together.

DAVID BARSTOW, Investigative Reporting, 2013 / The New York Times; Investigative Reporting, 2009 / NYT; Public Service, 2004 / NYT:

Enough is enough. The relentless and by all appearances vindictive effort by two administrations to force Jim Risen into betraying his sources has already done substantial and lasting damage to journalism in the United States. I've felt the chill first hand. Trusted sources in Washington are scared to talk by telephone, or by email, or even to meet for coffee, regardless of whether the subject touches on national security or not. My fellow investigative reporters commiserate about how we're being forced to act like drug dealers, taking extreme precautions to avoid leaving any digital breadcrumbs about where we've been and who we've met. If you value a vibrant free press, you want the Jim Risens of the world out hunting for the toughest truths about how power is used and abused. You don't want them rotting in jail cells. Do we really want to be that kind of country?

BARRY BEARAK, International Reporting, 2002 / The New York Times:

I've known Jim Risen for more than 30 years, been his colleague at three different newspapers, and while I have respected him immensely at every step of the way, I've never admired him more than now. He is carrying the banner for every American journalist. And if he goes to jail, a good bit of our nation's freedom will be locked away with him.

WALT BOGDANICH, Investigative Reporting, 2008 / The New York Times; National Reporting, 2005 / NYT; Specialized Reporting, 1988 / The Wall Street Journal:

I join my colleagues in supporting James Risen. The government should let him -- and us -- do our jobs without harassment.

GARETH COOK, Explanatory Reporting, 2005 / The Boston Globe:

A vibrant democracy is not possible without a free press. Our nation needs journalists who are willing -- and able -- to reveal facts that make the government uncomfortable. 

DAN FAGINGeneral Nonfiction / 2014:

In other countries, the Obama Administration likes to preach the gospel of transparent government and a vibrant press, so why is it prosecuting Jim Risen and stifling the public's access to the decision-making processes of our government at home? Jim Risen has performed a great service to his nation; he should be lauded by its leaders, not abused.

JAMES V. GRIMALDI, Investigative Reporting, 2006 / The Washington Post (now with The Wall Street Journal):

I join the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Dow Jones & Co. Inc. and other news organizations in urging the Justice Department to withdraw the subpoena issued to James Risen in the Jeffrey Sterling case. I agree with them and others that a careful examination of the facts shows that a demand for his testimony is not justified. 

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, Beat Reporting, 2001 / The New York Times:

The pursuit of James Risen reveals our government acting as a power unto itself, lying to escape accountability for massive domestic spying and failures in legitimate intelligence gathering. The liberties of the people cannot long endure unchecked government power. Risen and other investigative journalists are not enemies of the state, but watchdogs alerting the people to abuses of  the powers we grant those in elected and appointed office.

MARK JOHNSON, Explanatory Reporting, 2011 / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Preservation of a free, unfettered press has a long history in our country, allowing ordinary citizens to learn what their government is up to and to question actions carried out in their name. The Pentagon Papers, Watergate Scandal, My Lai Massacre, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and many other outrages would never have come to light in a country where reporters must fear imprisonment for doing their jobs. A big part of doing our jobs is giving our word to protect whistle blowers.

James Risen has done his job for many years at the highest level. That's why he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. More importantly, it's why his sources trust him. I urge the Attorney General not to prosecute Mr. Risen for standing by his word to a source. Prosecuting Mr. Risen would not only send a chilling message to other journalists seeking to continue our country's great tradition of freedom of the press. It would diminish America's reputation in the eyes of the world as a place that values truth. Our country is better than that.

JERRY KAMMER, National Reporting, 2006 / Copley News Service:

The Obama administration has invoked prosecutorial discretion in other areas of law, claiming to serve the public interest. It should invoke prosecutorial discretion in the case of James Risen because reporters who cannot protect sources often cannot obtain information vital to the public interest. To see how bad things have become throughout the executive branch, google “Obama promised transparency.”

MICHAEL LAFORGIA and WILL HOBSON, Local Reporting 2014 / Tampa Bay Times:

When a reporter exposes problems within government at any level, the government's response should be to get better — not to try to silence the reporter. We stand with James Risen.

ERIC LICHTBLAU, National Reporting, 2006 / The New York Times:

As the attorney general himself said, reporters should not be put in jail for doing their job. It's as simple as that. 

GRETCHEN MORGENSON, Beat Reporting, 2002 / The New York Times: 

As George Orwell said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” America needs journalists to write the first draft of history without fear or favor, as my colleague James Risen has. It is deeply disturbing that the Obama Administration is pursuing Mr. Risen for doing his job.

ERIC NEWHOUSE, Explanatory Reporting, 2000 / Great Falls (MT) Tribune:

The Obama Administration does a grave disservice to our nation in attempting to force a national affairs reporter to name his sources.

This case involves James Risen, a reporter for the New York Times who had written a book, State of War, detailing a botched C.I.A. operation in Iran. The Justice Department subpoenaed Risen in 2008 to learn the identity of a whistleblower. Now, after six years of legal wrangling, Risen has run out of challenges -- the U. S. Supreme Court has declined to intervene in the case, and Risen faces prison if he continues to decline to testify.

This is bad public policy on the part of the Obama Administration which, despite its denials, has more aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers than any recent administration.

As an investigative reporter virtually all of my career, I can attest that the vast majority of whistleblowers are citizens who want to improve the performance of their government. They generally are outraged to see the public being ripped off by lazy, entrenched bureaucrats who are being protected by a good-old-boy network.

Frustrated in their attempts to effect change within an unresponsive system, they reach out to reporters like me -- and like Risen -- to turn over the rocks and expose the slugs to the light of public scrutiny. They know, as I know, that such public scrutiny can force change even upon those who privately resist it.

Thus, the whistleblower and the investigative journalist are allied with the professed policy of the Obama Administration to improve the performance of the federal government, in this case to reduce the multiple failures of our so-called intelligence community.

But by threatening to send a journalist to prison for refusing to name his sources, the Obama Administration makes the whistleblowers more fearful to come forward, and it makes the journalists more hesitant to expose the failures of the government.

That’s just wrong. A government that resists constructive criticism is a government certain to face worsening problems.

DAVID PHILIPPS, National Reporting, 2014 / The Gazette (Colorado Springs):

I wish to express my support for James Risen. Work like his that strengthens the public understanding of government is foundation of good journalism and a vital part of a healthy democracy. 

DANA PRIEST, Public Service, 2008 / The Washington Post; Beat Reporting, 2006 / The Washington Post:

If the U.S. government were so concerned about the information revealed in Jim Risen’s stunning chapter on a now 14-year-old CIA operation against Iran gone wrong, it would have moved quickly to resolve this matter eight years ago when it was first published. Instead, it seems obvious now that what officials really want is to hold a hammer over the head of a deeply sourced reporter, and others like him who try to hold the government accountable for what it does, even in secret.

As Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama classified more and more of the government’s actions over the last 14 years, denying the public critical information to judge how its democracy is faring, it has fallen to reporters like Risen to keep Americans informed and to question whether a gigantic government in the shadows is really even a good idea. We will all be worse off if this case proceeds.

DAVID ROHDE, International Reporting, 1996 / Christian Science Monitor; International Reporting, team coverage, 2009 / New York Times (now at Reuters)

The Justice Department’s pursuit of James Risen puts the lie to President Obama’s claim that he “welcomes” debate regarding his national security policies and leads “the most transparent administration in history.”  The administration should immediately end its pursuit of Risen and respect all journalists’ first amendment rights.

MARCUS STERN, National Reporting, 2006 / Copley News Service:

No press shield, no freedom. It's about the great values embodied in the First Amendment and whether they will be undermined at this moment in history or endure for future generations. The fate of James Risen and his anonymous source is our fate and our grand-children's fate. Please, get it right.

JASON SZEP and ANDREW R.C. MARSHALL, International Reporting, 2014 / Reuters:

It is scandalous that James Risen faces jail time for doing what every good journalist working in the public interest does: protect confidential sources. President Obama and Attorney General Holder should halt all legal action against James to demonstrate that their “war on leaks” is not an assault on the First Amendment and freedom of the press.