Obama to Cops: Lay off reporters. Reporters to Obama: Practice What You Preach


Press activists rally against the possible jailing of a Pulitzer Prize winner.

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters Thursday about developments in Ferguson, Mo.

By Steven NelsonAug. 14, 2014 | 5:06 p.m. EDT+ More

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder asked police on Thursday not to jail reporters doing their jobs in Missouri as press advocates asked them not to jail Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen for doing his job.

“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground,” Obama said in a televised press conference around noon.

“Journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told,” Holder added in a statement.

On Wednesday, reporters from The Huffington Post and The Washington Post were arrested inside a McDonald’s restaurant while covering protests against the Saturday shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, by police in Ferguson, Missouri. They were released without charges.

[POLICE: Press
Wasn’t Targeted in Tear-Gas Attack

Ironically, a large coalition of press freedom organizations gathered at about the same time as Obama’s statement for a preplanned National Press Club rally asking the Obama administration to drop its pursuit of Risen’s testimony about a confidential source.

Risen says he would rather go to jail than comply. The fight has dragged on for years, and in June the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Risen’s lawyers seeking a constitutional or common law reporter’s privilege.

Obama’s request that police in Missouri not harass reporters “certainly is hypocritical,” vintage TV personality Phil Donahue, who appeared on a panel of Risen supporters, tells U.S. News.

Supporters of James Risen, right, want Attorney General Eric Holder, left, to back off.

“It’s very bewildering,” Donahue says. “I just don’t get it, especially from a constitutional lawyer.”

Representatives of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Reporters Without Borders, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Government Accountability Project and the Committee to Protect Journalists took turns asking Holder and Obama to back off Risen.

“The Democratic Party has given hope a bad name,” said RootsAction co-founder Norman Solomon, whose group delivered to the Department of Justice a pro-Risen petition with more than 125,000 signatures. “This is inherently a political case.”

[READ: 14
Pulitzer Prize Winners Ask Obama Not to Jail Reporter

Risen said he was grateful for the support and said Holder and Obama “turned this [case] into a showdown over the First Amendment.”

The award-winning New York Times reporter said the roughing up of journalists by Missouri cops was part of a larger post-9/11 struggle confronting reporters. “It’s all part of the same issue,” he said.

Federal prosecutors want Risen to testify at the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA employee who allegedly informed Risen about an embarrassingly mismanaged operation to supply Iran with flawed nuclear weapon designs.


Violence Erupts After Missouri Shooting

The CIA operation – detailed in Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration” – fell apart when the Russian scientist hired to deliver the bomb blueprints noticed the flaws and tipped off the Iranians.

It’s unclear what the Department of Justice has in mind for Risen. Earlier this year, Holder and one of his deputies hinted they would not seek jail time, but they have not explicitly ruled out the option.


%d bloggers like this: