The James Risen Case Cuts to the Heart of "Freedom of the Press"

If the Senate doesn’t screw things up, we might finally get the kind of media shield law that our democracy requires. Late last month, the Republican-controlled House of Representative passed the so-called Commerce, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015 (H.R. 4660) by a margin of 321 to 87.

On its own, there’s nothing all that interesting about H.R. 4660. It’s your basic cut-and-dry appropriations bill that lays out how a handful of federal agencies, including the Justice Department, can spend their money. H.R. 4660 is the kind of bill that Congress passes all the time without much media attention.

But, believe it or not, there actually is something really interesting about H.R. 4660, something that could have a huge impact on how our government interacts with the only industry mentioned by name in the Constitution: the press. And that something is H.R. 4660’s Section 561, an amendment sponsored by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson.

Section 561 says: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to compel a journalist or reporter to testify about information or sources ... that he regards as confidential.” Basically what this means is that the government can’t force journalists to testify in court against their sources, even if their sources are on trial for leaking really top secret information that, in the government’s opinion, could threaten national security.

This is a huge deal. Right now, the government is making New York Times reporter James Risen testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA agent who Risen used as a source for his book on the CIA. Risen tried getting out of testifying against Sterling by appealing his case to the Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear his appeal, confirming a lower court decision that said that Risen couldn’t ignore a subpoena just because he was a journalist.

Risen’s case cuts right to the heart of the freedom of the press. When the government makes journalists testify against their sources, it basically makes it impossible for them to do their jobs. It scares other potential sources away from even thinking about talking to a reporter.

This isn’t just bad for the media; it’s bad for our democracy. We need the media to be the fourth estate, a functional fourth branch of government that keeps the other three in check. And when reporters can’t work with sources, especially government sources, because those sources are scared that they’ll testify against them, that makes it impossible for the press to cover what it needs to cover the most: government corruption, secret CIA programs, and other malfeasance by insiders.

We need a media shield law that protects acts of journalism as well as journalists themselves. That’s why Section 561 of the Commerce, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act is so crucial: It protects the most important act any journalist can ever do - work with sources to write a story.

The House of Representatives has spoken. It believes in protecting the freedom of the press. Soon we'll find out if the Senate does, too.


sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 3 years 6 weeks ago

Hey, Folks...

Let's hope the media shield law protects 'acts of journal-ism' and not journal-ists.

After listening to today’s show on FSTV, I just had to write re. the gun violence issue. (couldn’t call in, not live) So a bit off topic. Hope that’s OK. Kudos to you Thom, for calling it terrorism. My question to the pro-gun guest and callers would be “Given the DOD’s definition of ‘terrorism’, how are these shootings NOT terrorism?”

My intuition is screaming that the the richest .01%, the corporate-dirty energy-financial-military industrial complex is desperate to make it not only legal for us to kill each other, but easy. As Allen Grayson says, “..they want you to die and die quickly.” True, he was referring to sick people, but I think it applies to anyone who is not wealthy. With resources on the planet running out, and run-away climate change poised on, if not over the brink of irreversible, they see 2 possible solutions; 1) Decrease/shift demand- unacceptable. This would cost money and shift power from the few to the many. Altering global society to the degree necessary to scale back consumption enough to save the planet in their view, is also not realistic. 2)Decrease the population- they see as the only workable solution. In order to do this, they have had to cultivate endless war, Ayn Randism and divisive social/economic attitudes that would enable pandemic sociopathy and infighting, and consolidate access to resources as much as possible.

According to Mother Jones; “In 2012, six oil and gas companies contributed a total of between $1.3 million and $5.6 million to the NRA, according to CAP. (The companies are Clayton Williams Energy, J.L. Davis Gas Consulting, Kamps Propane, Barrett Brothers Oil and Gas, Saulsbury Energy Services, and KS Industries.)”

We are all aware of the infamy of ‘Citizen’s United’, declaring corporations as persons and money as speech. While we knew it would render our political system a gluttonous, whoring debauchery, I, for one, could never have foreseen what is taking shape before me now. As such it would seem these ‘persons’ are more like evil villains with super powers. Their voices are heard everywhere. They have the ability to apply force many thousands of times greater than a mere locomotive or speeding bullet. They are almost omnipresent. As such, their rights trump those of natural persons every time. So, what happens now that we know any person in a “stand your ground” state can kill anyone they deem a threat without consequence? What happens when one of these villains with superpowers feels “threatened” by a peaceful protestor? These “shoot first” laws originated with ALEC, a bunch of the biggest, meanest, most powerful super-villains. Are they chomping at the bit to mow us down with impunity? With trade agreements shaping and even trumping national law it’s horrifying to imagine what their motives are. Let’s take the the ‘person’ Gogebic Taconite (sounds like kryptonite). They had hired another super-villain, Bulletproof Securities to ‘stand their ground’ for them, to help them cope with peaceful protestors, now referred to as “eco-terrorists”. Bulletproof Securities is not licensed in WI, so Gogebic Taconite has temporarily suspended their contract with them while they apply for licensure and replaced them with militia men who are members of a group called the Watchmen of America. and
If a single person (Zimmerman) can get away with stalking and killing an unarmed child, as if hunting for sport, how then are we to defend ourselves from the villains with super powers? Referring to us as eco-terrorists turns logic on it’s head. Those with super human powers destroying the land, air and water in ways more unspeakable than anything read in a Stephen King novel are claiming to be the victims of terrorism while unarmed pacifists trying to stop the destruction are labeled terrorists.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 6 weeks ago

Sandlewould ~ When war is forced upon you, the only solution is to fight back. Fight fire with fire. I hate to point out the obvious but a natural alliance between right wing militia groups and environmentalists seems like a perfect solution. Any hired mercenaries confronted with a mob of well armed citizens who are really pissed off will cut and run in a second. Of course since this militia will probably be carrying heavy weapons they will have to be caught off guard and trapped. That is when the cunning of the environmentalists will pay off. There is always a creative solution to any problem.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 6 weeks ago

Of course, the most effective way to fight these corporations is to simply boycott their products and challenge them in court. Protests themself are all well and good; however, how good they are is determined by how many people see them. With the media as it is, protests have lost much of their persuasive power in our society. I think the effort is better spent organizing an effective boycott or court case. Of course, even these peaceful endeavors have been deemed illegal by the current Cabal. More reason than ever to act defiantly.

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 3 years 6 weeks ago

...Perhaps...I am fighting back by NOT fighting. I am working on an urban CSA, redefining what it means to protest ...peacefully. When we go to D.C. waving our fists in the air and angrily demanding justice, the noise falls on deaf ears and only serves to further harden what little heart is left on Capital Hill. What if we waved flowers in the air, marched slowly, quietly and thoughtfully carrying signs that promoted our causes, yet were also inspirational? What if, instead of chanting angry slogans at police, the OWS protestors silently made compassionate eye contact w/ police while offering them their flowers, quietly standing their ground with love and compassion. This is how Gandhi would have done it. True...the fascists might end up mowing them down w/ impunity...but instead of the media using protestors' anger to portray them as demanding brats, they'd be hard pressed to ignore their moral high ground. When I was 8 and asked for anything, I always had to ask nicely. If I carried a sign that said "Demand Ice Cream Now!" I would have been ignored...granted, I still might have been told 'no' had I carried a sign that said "Ice Cream, Please?" least I would have been noticed. When Protestors wave fists in the air and shout, chanting slogans that the 1% find tiresome at best and down right obnoxios at worst, how can we expect to be heard? The 1%, who truly view the 'average' person as 'less than' and undeserving, are only less likely to sympathize with aggressive "non-violent" protestors.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 3 years 6 weeks ago

sandlewould: Only problem with that is that the corporate controlled media will only cover what they want you to see. And for that the infiltrators will create scenes of token violence that the media will concentrate on. The police will still tear gas people and use their rough shod violence against peaceful demonstrators.

I keep thinking about how the demonstrations went in Ukraine when the police just stood there hiding behind their shields while the demonstrators hurled everything they could find at the police. Who ended up winning that contest? The demonstrators! What a difference! In America, we have cowering demonstrators being beaten by a few police that don't hide behind shields. Do the demonstrators really think that by getting their heads cracked by the police that it is going to make a difference? Do they really think that they will gain the empathy of the majority of the people...and to what end? vote for yet another Democrat? Yet another lying politician that will end up stabbing us all in our backs?

Now if all those police were overwhelmed by the demonstrators and had THEIR heads cracked, for a change, it might send a very strong message to the ruling elite that the lambs are not going to take it anymore. Yes, it would escalate...and the major media would try to color it in a way that made the demonstrators look bad. But they do that anyway! The reason why the 1% can get away with their crimes is because they are not scared one bit that the docile American people will object they do in other countries. Will they even be moved to boycott certain products if a boycott is called? And just how effective would a boycott be if it wasn't an organized massive boycott? A boycott is a lot safer than trying to have a dumb shootout with the police. But then, is a boycott now considered, by the NDAA, a "terrorist" action?

As long as "they" can keep you from physically rebelling or hurting their profit margins "they" are not worried that their course of unmitigated exploitation of the masses will change.

How was it possible that so many millions of people were rounded up, put on box cars, and murdered in Nazi death camps? All done by a few Nazis with guns and a few snarling German Shepherds. The crowds could have easily taken those few Nazis...beat the crap out of them...but they all resigned themselves to the lies that they were just being resettled. And the rumors of death camps that went around..people chose not to believe them...they just went along with authority figures. But, eventually, a few of them figured it out and rebelled. It was an exemplary show of force that said "No, you're not going to push us around so easily!"

Lies keep people submissive and subverted. The problem is recognizing the lies. But, no one can, effectively, act alone. That's stupid! That's suicidal! What those two people did in Las Vegas was dumb and suicidal. It just gives the opposition fuel for their propaganda wars that serves the interests of the ruling elite. They would love it if we all did not have any guns at all so that we could never effectively rebel no matter how horrible things get. It just provides the "shock factor", like 9/11, to run and hide under the "protection" of those agents who are setting us all up for our downfall...our total subjugation.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 6 weeks ago

Pal -- I thought those Ukranian protestors were thugs hired by the economic royalists in the Eurozone. Why else would they threaten a democratically elected president and replace him with a banker?

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 3 years 6 weeks ago

Chuckle8: Yes, I agree that the protestors, some at least, "were thugs hired by the economic royalists in the Eurozone". But that doesn't change the fact that the violent protestors won against the police and overthrew the country... as it has in other countries like Egypt, Libya, Iran, and a bunch of Latin American countries, as well. It shows that it works much better than fake elections like what we have here in the U.S.

I wasn't routing for the demonstrators in this case. It also goes to show how much the US and Europe really cares for the sanctity of democratic elections. They have proven over and over again that they don't give a hoot about democracy... because democracy in the U.S. is a farce... and they really don't want democracy... a real democracy... anywhere else either.

Lots of people may die in a conflict with a ruling power in the short time but if that ruling power was left to stay in power lots more people would die, over time, from the bad laws that it created to favor the wealthy over the less wealthy.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 6 weeks ago

Palin -- I can't even get the people on this blog to think that democracy is the best course for people to take. The people say, we have to declare freedom of speech as amendent that requires 2/3 to overturn. That is not democracy.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 6 weeks ago
Quote Palindromedary:Now if all those police were overwhelmed by the demonstrators and had THEIR heads cracked, for a change, it might send a very strong message to the ruling elite that the lambs are not going to take it anymore.

Palindromedary ~ Very well said! It is a great shame that didn't happen during Vietnam. Perhaps things will be quite different the next time.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 3 years 6 weeks ago

It seems like the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 3 years 6 weeks ago

For me...Even if the 1% crushes and kills every last one of the 99%, eventually, they will still have to either turn on one another or look in the mirror and learn something. Mother Earth will have the last word anyway..I'm guessing. Over all, in terms of consciousness and the universe as a whole...I'd still rather end up on the end of not fighting with violence...just my thing, I'd never stop or judge any who chose another path...

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 3 years 6 weeks ago

sorry, don't know why the above posted twice...originally...

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 3 years 6 weeks ago

Hey Sandles, I'd rather have duplicate posts from you than none at all. - AIW

ChicagoMatt 3 years 6 weeks ago

During the Chicago teacher strikes a few years ago, the cops were called in just to keep traffic flowing smoothly and those sorts of things. They got along with the teachers, since they were all public employees and in unions. There are pictures of the chatting and laughing together, even though one was a protestor and the other was a cop. And the teachers weren't protesting to change an entire system. They just wanted more money/respect, which is understandable for any working person.

I can't remember if it was during the G7 summit here, or the OWS movement in NYC, but I've seen pictures of cops in full riot gear with "thanks for the overtime" painted on their shields. It was more adversarial between those groups, because, to the outside observer, those protesters were trying to change the whole system.

What you have to remember, when it comes to cops, is that they are, in most cities, well paid and had to work hard to get those jobs. So when they encounter protesters who are trying to change a system that has been good for the cops - especially if those protesters seem to have no respect for the cops - tensions are likely to flair. You don't need the 1% telling the cops what to do.

The average cop in Chicago takes home about $60,000 plus benefits. Most can increase that to over $100K with side jobs, overtime, etc. In this economy, that is very good. If you were in that position, and some young person with no job was egging you on and calling you a fascist or whatever, it would take great restraint NOT to go after them.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 6 weeks ago
Quote ChicagoMatt:The average cop in Chicago takes home about $60,000 plus benefits. Most can increase that to over $100K with side jobs, overtime, etc. In this economy, that is very good. If you were in that position, and some young person with no job was egging you on and calling you a fascist or whatever, it would take great restraint NOT to go after them.

ChicagoMatt ~ It would take an even greater amount of imagination to see a situation in which a cop is paid extra to defend private corporate interests and is in any way tempted to legally use physical force to stifle dissent as anything other than fascism 101.

The true fact of the matter is that usually in these situations it is the protestors who are right and not the law enforcement--turned corporate mercenaries.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 3 years 5 weeks ago

Well said, Marc! Time and again I observe these protests proceeding peacefully until the cops barge in with their riot gear, and start attacking nonviolent dissenters. Happens all the time.

Recently a young woman (whose name escapes me) was participating peacefully in such a demonstration when she was assaulted by a police officer, who snuck up from behind and grabbed her breast. Since she wasn't yelling "Fascist" or smashing windows or breaking any laws, this assault was without provocation. Her instinctive reaction was to resist with an elbow jab; consequently it is SHE who has been charged with assaulting a police officer, for which she now faces the prospect of seven years in prison.

Our constitutional right to dissent is not respected by the police. Their mission is not to serve the public; they are simply doing the dirty work of their elite puppet masters. As usual, Matt, you don't know what you're talking about. - Aliceinwonderland

P.S. Grabbing a woman by the breast constitutes sexual assault. Since when was self defense a crime?

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 5 weeks ago

Aliceinwonderland ~ Thanks for that story! I just hope two things. First I hope she caught that son-of-a-bad one right on the bridge of his nose with her elbow. Secondly, I sure hope she has witnesses because I smell a countersuit. Rightfully so, too. I hope she takes him and his city puppet masters to the cleaners.

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 3 years 5 weeks ago

Yes Alice, I froget her name, but I remember hearing that she wasn't even participating, but simply passing through on her way to a St. Patrick's Day celebration. I don't know if I have the inner fortitude, but if I'm ever attacked by police, I hope I can return compassion and kindness. I was assaulted once, the guy said he intended to rape me. I did fight back, but when he threw me on the ground, I looked into his eys and said I cared about him and was sorry his mom had mistreated him. I'm sure this is rare, but he let me go. Since then, I have tried, and often failed...NOT to fight bck...BTW I did call the cops, but got the standard 'it was your own fault' treatment...this was back in the 80s.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 3 years 5 weeks ago

WOW Sandles, I had no idea she was just passing through and not even participating. I saw a clip about it on Democracy Now and must have missed that detail somehow. After she elbowed the cop, he continued assaulting her, roughing her up and throwing her on the ground. She ended up having convulsions. There were dozens of witnesses. It was horrendous. I pray she is acquitted.

Frankly I am outraged that as recently as the 1980s, rape victims (or victims of attempted rape) were still getting blamed. Can you think of any other crime that victims get blamed for?!

Why would you think it better not to fight back? Whenever I hear of a woman fighting back and winning, I want to jump and shout with joy. Like that deaf stunt artist whose assailant eavesdropped while she checked into a motel; awhile later, she was awakened from a sound sleep with a knife to her throat. This gal happened to be accomplished at karate as well as stunt artistry, so she kicked the living shit out of him. A minute later, Mister Macho Man, the wannabe assailant/rapist, was lying in a heap on the floor. After that, the cops came, gathered him up and hauled him off to the slammer where he belonged.

I heard another story about a seventeen-year-old girl who grabbed the rapist's balls and twisted them real hard. He was in no shape to finish what he'd started after that! And do you remember Inez Garcia? She shot the 300 pound man who held her down while this other guy raped her, and wound up in jail for killing him. That happened in the 1970s. She became a celebrity. I still have a "Free Inez" button on my denim jacket, just for old time's sake!

Yep. Be warned, guys. Try sticking it where it don't belong and you might lose it... or die! Heh-heh.

Now Sandles, what the hell's wrong with any of that?! - AIW

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 5 weeks ago

sandles -- With 7 Billion of us and 69 of them, it will be along time before they turn on each other.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 5 weeks ago

AIW -- Not only were there witnesses there was a video tape. In spite of all that, she was convicted of assaulting the police officer. The judge would not allow the part of the video that showed the cop, copping a feel (sorry, I had to do that). He said it would bias the jury. Anyway, that is what I heard.

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 3 years 5 weeks ago


I did say that I fought back. I went for his eys when his hands were around my throat. When he threw me on the ground, I got lucky when it occured to me to be compassionate..and it worked...ONCE! Fighting back against one rapist for the chance of survival is one thing. Fighting a corrup regime when one has no chance...well the moral high ground of turning the other cheek, in my way of thinking, has the better chance of changing minds.

ChicagoMatt 3 years 5 weeks ago
I hope she takes him and his city puppet masters to the cleaners.

Wouldn't that only hurt the 99% even more? They'd be the ones paying for it.

Not saying he shouldn't be sued it he did it. And if a tape of it exists, I hope it makes its way to youtube. And good for her if she does sue and gets money from it.

But that money isn't coming from the elites. It's coming from average joe property tax payer. And, if that city is anything like Chicago, a $5,000,000 settlement will just mean one more school that has to be shut down.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 3 years 5 weeks ago

Had to do what, Chuck? Nothing in your post is objectionable, at least to me. You're just calling a prick a prick.

Anyway I saw that video on Democracy Now. I'm furious at the judge's ruling. This is NOT justice; it's misogynist, fascist bullshit. "Justice" system by name only! - AIW

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 3 years 5 weeks ago

AIW -- I was apologizing for being punny.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 3 years 5 weeks ago


DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 3 years 5 weeks ago
Quote ChicagoMatt:Wouldn't that only hurt the 99% even more? They'd be the ones paying for it.

ChicagoMatt ~ The 99% are already paying for it. Who do you think is paying these Corporate mercenaries anyway? Certainly not the Corporations. Dinging the citizenry is a fine way to bring this travesty to the attention of everyone. That is the only way to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 3 years 5 weeks ago

Matt, listen to economist Richard Wolfe's lecture! Click on the link Marc provides in the thread of June 12th, post #32. Economists usually put me to sleep, but not this guy. Anyway check it out (if you dare!). - AIW

Trump Doesn't Understand What Healthcare Is

Donald Trump has the power to force anywhere from 22 to 32 million American men, women, and children to lose their health insurance.

There's just one problem: he doesn't seem to understand what health insurance actually is.

Latest Headlines

Who rejected United States-North Korea peace talks?

There were conflicting reports on Sunday regarding a recent proposal for United States-North Korea peace talks which was allegedly made before North Korea"s recent nuclear test

U.K. Pound Falls As Markets Get Brexit Jitters

Bloomberg said on Monday the pound had sustained its biggest fall against the dollar in 11 months

Clinton: I'll defend Israel but push for 'two-state solution

Hillary Clinton believes both Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz "missed the mark" with their approach to the Israel-Palestinian Arab conflict
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Through compelling personal stories, Hartmann presents a dramatic and deeply disturbing picture of humans as a profoundly troubled species. Hope lies in his inspiring vision of our enormous unrealized potential and his description of the path to its realization."
David Korten, author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning, and When Corporations Rule the World
From Unequal Protection, 2nd Edition:
"If you wonder why and when giant corporations got the power to reign supreme over us, here’s the story."
Jim Hightower, national radio commentator and author of Swim Against the Current
From Screwed:
"Hartmann speaks with the straight talking clarity and brilliance of a modern day Tom Paine as he exposes the intentional and systematic destruction of America’s middle class by an alliance of political con artists and outlines a program to restore it. This is Hartmann at his best. Essential reading for those interested in restoring the institution that made America the envy of the world."
David C. Korten, author of The Great Turning and When Corporations Rule the World