Press-government relations turning sour


James Risen’s thought-provoking analysis of the United States’ approach to war and the face of American democracy today lends itself nicely to discussion of journalism in today’s political climate.

As the U.S. becomes increasingly committed to fighting a war on terror, despite a lack of consistent and clear motives from a mutable enemy, American reporters must become increasingly aware of the risks associated with reporting against the government.

Despite the noble nature of journalism, the purity of the ideal journalist’s motives leaves them open to corruption. The goals of disseminating truth and educating the public are so easily affected by outside forces that anything from money to fear could affect a reporter and warp the presentation of news. As the U.S. places more importance on public safety and the goal of protecting the nation from a terrorist attack, we lose the already established rights of freedom of speech and press. The inverse relationship between the two is unsettling to say the least.

Risen is a reporter familiar with the U.S. government’s encroachment on press rights. After publishing his book “State of War” in 2006, Risen has been hounded continuously by the U.S. Justice Department to reveal sources and testify against a variety of people who leaked government secrets.

To his credit, Risen has firmly protected his sources and has refused to break the trust afforded to him by his profession. Despite threatened action of varying degrees of severity by the U.S. government, Risen has stayed strong and protected a key aspect of reporting.

By guaranteeing confidentiality to a source, journalists are able to access deeper pools of information, as well as facts and rumors that would not have otherwise seen the light of day. These benefits allow reporters to simply do their job better, and explore and expose various organizations with a greater degree of nuance and success.

The U.S. government’s crackdown on reporters bodes poorly for the future of freedom of speech. By prioritizing round-the-clock safety, the rights the U.S. was founded on suffer, and citizens not only lose essential, inalienable powers, but also a sense of history and identity as Americans.

At the risk of placing journalists on a pedestal, this group of professionals represents the front line of protecting basic rights. It has become crucial for reporters to weigh their professional action against their patriotic instinct and it is job where the line between right and wrong is almost completely blurred.