New York Times reporter James Risen has risked his own freedom to protect the principles that are essential for a truly free press. For that, the Newspaper Guild-CWA has named the embattled reporter a winner this year of the Herbert Block Freedom Award.
Journalist James Risen.
Federal officials have been pursuing Risen since 2006, demanding he confirm the name of a man they believe was a source for his book, "State of War," about the CIA and the Bush Administration. In the years since, Risen has pursued every legal avenue to force the Department of Justice to drop its subpoena. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June upheld a lower court decision to sustain the subpoena. Despite the threat of jail for contempt of court, Risen continues to refuse to reveal the name.
"With his book, James Risen did what great journalists do," TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said. "He dug for information, developed sources who trusted him and ultimately exposed some of the hard truths behind the war on terrorism. Without jeopardizing national security, he told Americans what their government wouldn't. That is his job, the job of all journalists. And we are all better for it."
Risen's unwavering resolve and the outpouring of support from journalists nationwide "should make it clear to the government that no reporter is going to break a pledge to a source they've guaranteed anonymity," Lunzer said. "Many journalists already report that sources are drying up out of fear of being fired and prosecuted if caught. What James Risen is doing helps ensure that the well doesn't dry up for good, which would be a catastrophic blow to our democracy."
The Freedom Award, which comes with a $5,000 prize, honors the famous Washington Post cartoonist, Herbert Block, known as Herblock. Block, who carried a Guild card from 1934 until his death in 2001, cared deeply about social justice and First Amendment rights. Winners, chosen by the Guild's executive council, are journalists and activists who exemplify Block's values. He had profound compassion for the weak and disadvantaged, held a deep distrust of unbridled power and made substantial contributions to a free press.
The award will be presented with the Heywood Broun award at a ceremony in October. Whether Risen will be able to attend the event isn't known. His lawyer has advised him not to discuss his case until it is resolved.
The Newspaper Guild-CWA, founded in 1933, represents 25,000 media industry and other workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Find us at NewsGuild.org, Facebook.com/TheNewspaperGuildCWA and @news_guild on Twitter.