Civics: James Risen, the New York Times and the Federal Government


“The Bush administration argued that it was too valuable for the counterterrorism programs in the United States,” Risen tells Goodman. “And the editors agreed with that at the time.”

After over a year of “a game of chicken with the Times,” Risen and his co-author, Eric Lichtblau, finally published the story after Lichtblau learned that “the White House had considered getting a court-ordered injunction to prevent the Times from publishing the story.”

“This was electric news, because the last time that had happened at the Times was during the Pentagon Papers case in the 1970s, one of the most important events in the history of the newspaper,” Risen writes in The Intercept. “The debate about whether to run the story was over.”

“I believe the Times, the Washington Post and other national news organizations have sometimes hyped threats from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The exaggerated reporting on terrorism, in particular, has had a major political impact in the United States and helped close off debate in Washington over whether to significantly roll back some of the most draconian counterterrorism programs, like NSA spying,” Risen concludes in his Intercept piece. “I do believe that the fight inside the Times over the NSA story helped usher in a new era of more aggressive national security reporting at the paper. Since then, the Times has been much more willing to stand up to the government and refuse to go along with White House demands to hold or kill stories.”