1.20.2015

Anonymous Sources are Vital for Reporting the News

New York Times Reporter Wins Seven Year Fight Not to Reveal Sources
by Chris Helsel
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner James Risen has emerged victorious in his quest to avoid testifying at the trial of former C.I.A. officer Jeffrey Sterling. Mr. Sterling is charged with providing Mr. Risen details of a botched operation intended to disrupt Iran's nuclear program - details which Mr. Risen allegedly used in describing the operation in his 2006 book, State of War.
The Justice Department first subpoenaed Mr. Risen to testify in 2008, during the Bush Administration. Mr. Risen, who faced imprisonment, steadfastly refused to reveal his confidential sources, and ultimately took his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court declined to hear his appeal in June 2014, but Attorney General Eric Holder ultimately decided prosecutors would not force the New York Times reporter to reveal his sources.
The ongoing saga has provoked significant backlash in the journalism community, and recently Mr. Holder announced that he would not seek to jail reporters for protecting their sources. He also rewrote the guidelines under which reporters could be subpoenaed.
Last week, Mr. Risen took the stand in the Eastern District of Virginia and proclaimed once again that he would not reveal his sources. Under orders from Mr. Holder, prosecutors did not press him on the issue or demand answers, as that could have exposed Mr. Risen to contempt charges. From the stand, Mr. Risen posed questions to both the prosecutor and Mr. Sterling's attorney. "It doesn't work that way. You can't ask questions," said Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. "That's the reporter in you."
According to attorney Joel Kurtzberg, who represents Mr. Risen, "The significance of this goes beyond Jim Risen. It affects journalists everywhere. Journalists need to be able to uphold that confidentiality in order to do their jobs."

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