A criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook
Leonie Brinkema, US Federal Judge. United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling.
In a case involving an ex-CIA agent accused of revealing classified national security information, the US government tried to force New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his sources for his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (NPR review and excerpt).
Earlier this month Brinkema ruled Risen would not have to testify.
As explained by Charlie Savage in the New York Times:
The judge wrote that Mr. Risen was protected by a limited “reporter’s privilege” under the First Amendment, meaning that prosecutors had to prove that there was a compelling need for the reporter’s testimony and there that were no other means of obtaining the equivalent of that testimony. The government argued that such a privilege did not exist, but she recounted numerous other cases -– though none as high profile as the C.I.A. leak case -– in which other federal judges had invoked it.
This is an important victory for the First Amendment, and for the freedom of the press in the United States. Some people don’t seem to understand the connection between the ability of journalists to protect their confidential sources and a free press. But if whistleblowers in government, in corporations, and elsewhere in society can be hounded and persecuted, and if the Justice Department is able to use its power to turn reporters into informants, then investigative journalism in America will surely wither and die. The First Amendment will have lost its meaning.
Email from the New York Times’ James Risen to Salon’s Glenn Greenwald.
On Friday, a judge ruled that Risen would not have to testify about the identity of a source during the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official.
Sterling was arrested in January and is accused of leaking classified information to Risen.
Glenn Greenwald, Salon. Obama’s whistleblower war suffers two defeats.