Well, this is beyond awkward. The State Department today launched its third annual "Free the Press" campaign, which intends to focus attention on "journalists or media outlets that are censored, attacked, threatened, or otherwise oppressed because of their reporting."
Only problem? As Trevor Timm points out, it's being launched on the exact same day that the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to stand aside and let the Obama administration send Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, James Risen, to jail.
I suppose the first "Free the Press" initiative will be to raise awareness about Risen, oppressed and threatened for his reporting? After all, Risen stands to serve prison time if he refuses to reveal his sources from reportage on the Central Intelligence Agency's attempts to undermine Iran's nuclear program.
At today's State Department briefing, an appropriately-incredulous Matthew Lee of the Associated Press grilled State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki about the clear contradiction.
QUESTION: The Administration does not regard attempting to prosecute American journalists as an infringement of press freedom?So the State Department, on the day it's launching "Free the Press," does not consider the Obama administration's targeting of Risen and others for their reportage as infringing upon their press freedoms. That much is clear.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure which – or what you’re referring to.
QUESTION: Well, there’s several cases that are out there right now. The one that comes – springs to mind is the James Risen case, where the Justice Department has – is attempting to prosecute. You don’t – I just want to be clear; I’m not trying to --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt --
QUESTION: I just want to know if you regard that as an infringement on press freedom or not. And I would suspect that you do not, but I want to make sure that’s the case.
MS. PSAKI: As you know, and I’ll of course refer to the Department of Justice, but the leaking of classified information is in a separate category. What we’re talking about here, as you all know, and unfortunately we have to talk about on a regular basis here, is the targeting of journalists --
QUESTION: No, no --
MS. PSAKI: -- the arrests, the imprisonment, for simply exercising --
MS. PSAKI: -- their ability to tell a story.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that, and we’re all, I’m sure – myself and all of my colleagues, we’re very appreciative of that. But the reporters in question here have not leaked the information; they simply published it. So is it correct, then, that you don’t believe – you don’t regard that as an infringement of press freedom?
MS. PSAKI: We don’t.
What is also clear? The DOJ is doing everything it can to prevent the courts from creating further protections for journalists in America. As Politico's Josh Gerstein noted with regard to the DOJ's argument against the Supreme Court taking up the Risen case:
"The Justice Department brief is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists ... "[which places] President Barack Obama in the awkward position of [potentially] presiding over the jailing of a journalist in an administration the president has vowed to make the most transparent in history."If Risen is forced to serve prison time for essential and valuable reportage, if the Obama administration succeeds in analogizing Risen's using a source to a drug addict using a dealer (and then refusing to testify about it), we will be going down a very dark rabbit hole.
But don't worry. The State Department's sunshine initiative will shine a light into it.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.