Should a journalist have to testify about a source that leaks unauthorized information?

“In a major ruling on press freedoms, a divided federal appeals court on Friday ruled that James Risen, an author and a reporter for The New York Times, must testify in the criminal trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency official charged with providing him with classified information,” reports the New York Times.

In a 118-page set of opinions, two members of a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters who receive unauthorized leaks from being forced to testify against the people suspected of leaking to them.

A district court judge who had ruled in Mr. Risen’s case had said that it did. “Clearly, Risen’s direct, firsthand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony,” wrote Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler Jr., who was joined by Judge Albert Diaz in Friday’s ruling.

Mr. Risen has vowed to go to prison rather than testify about his sources and to carry any appeal as far as the Supreme Court. But some legal specialists said an appeal to the full appeals court was a likely first step. Mr. Risen referred a request to comment to his lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, who wrote in an e-mail: “We are disappointed by and disagree with the court’s decision. We are currently evaluating our next steps.”

Today’s Question: Should a journalist have to testify about a source that leaks unauthorized information?

  • JQP

    No. In fact, the government should be required to justify the classification of all “classified” documents. Every administration that gets into office continues to stamp some level of classification on everything they have. It just isn’t true.

    Any court ruling that says that reporters have, by blanket decsion, to become part of the government secrecy program … inclusive of falsely classified documents, is an utter sham of a mockery of a travesty.

    USCA 4 Circuit should be thoroughly ashamed at this display of ignorance.

    • neptune612


      • JQP

        or shamockestry!

  • neptune612

    Why would this even be a question in the presence of the 1st Amendment?

  • Rich in Duluth


    It seems to me that the threat of putting a journalist in jail for refusing to disclose a source of information for a news story, would tend to make a journalist consider not reporting such information. This, clearly, is “abridging” the freedom of the press and, thus, goes against the First Amendment.

  • PaulJ

    People should be able to say whatever they want without fear from the courts- it vents the pressure.

  • Jim G

    No, our democratic republic must check the power of secret organizations and the men who seek power through their misuse. During the Vietnam war the NSA was exposed for spying on American citizens in 1974 through unauthorized leaks. James Risen’s State of War continues the necessary airing of powerful and deadly currents within our government during the Bush administration to do their will without oversight. This book shines daylight on the neocons within the Bush administration: it’s torture policy and their efforts to insulate Bush from its repercussions. A policy that all Americans who care about freedom should care about. Even today we now know that the NSA continues its spying on Americans. Without leaks, we would know nothing of these plots to gain knowledge of citizens’ information.The First Amendment is foremost in our freedoms because without it we have only the illusion of freedom. The First Amendment would be a terrible thing to lose on our generations watch. Let’s keep the freedom of the press…free from government control and censure.

  • lindblomealges

    I don’t think this is a black and white issue. Some secrets NEED TO BE LEAKED and that source NEEDS TO BE PROTECTED. For example, if Senator Joseph McCarthy is getting kick backs from the CIA in exchange for his support in the War against Iraq, THE TRUTH MUST BE KNOWN. But other documents, like those detailing an illicit affair between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski, doesn’t endanger the public good and therefore, a journalist should be compelled to tell all and out people. I would feel much more comfortable if the American Constitution ACTUALLY INCLUDED a list of things that endangers the public versus those that really don’t.

  • Nature Love