Former New York Times reporter James Risen left that newspaper in August to join The Intercept as senior national security correspondent. This week, he published a 15,000-word story headlined The Biggest Secret: My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror.
Risen’s piece outlines how the Times and the U.S. government prevented him from publishing crucial stories in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
In his Intercept piece, Risen writes:
After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration began asking the press to kill stories more frequently. They did it so often that I became convinced the administration was invoking national security to quash stories that were merely politically embarrassing … .
By 2002, I was also starting to clash with the editors over our coverage of the Bush administration’s claims about pre-war intelligence on Iraq. My stories raising questions about the intelligence, particularly the administration’s claims of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, were being cut, buried, or held out of the paper altogether.
Risen goes on to explain how, in the spring of 2004, he began to meet with a source who gave him “the story of a lifetime”: the NSA had been wiretapping Americans without search warrants or court approval.
“The Bush administration was engaged in a massive domestic spying program that was probably illegal and unconstitutional,” Risen writes, “and only a handful of carefully selected people in the government knew about it.”
Risen wrote a draft of the story, but then the government pressured the Times to kill it, according to a report in Truthdig.
The story would have come out just before the 2004 election, which “could have been pivotal in this Kerry-Bush presidential election,” noted host Amy Goodman during a Democracy Now! interview with Risen (see below).
“The Bush administration argued that it was too valuable for the counterterrorism programs in the United States,” Risen told Goodman. “And the editors agreed with that at the time.”
After more than a year of playing “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.”
According to Risen:
“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 counter-terrorism programs, like NSA spying.
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.”
The most important thing you can read today is not about Steve Bannon.
It’s from the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, James Risen.
Here, James details how the New York Times regularly suppressed his stories at the request of the US Government. https://t.co/1qKdqxW2zd
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) January 3, 2018
It isn’t just the government that James Risen had to fight. He also battled his own editors and other powerful figures at the New York Times. https://t.co/AuQvn8CIJw
— The Intercept (@theintercept) January 3, 2018