News & Opinion

Herbert Block Freedom Award Winner James Risen: As Government Crack Down, Journalists Must Speak Up

James Risen told a Newspaper Guild audience Tuesday night that the U.S. government's crackdown on whistleblowers and leaks is an urgent threat to America's free press, one that demands journalists do something that doesn't come naturally: Speak up and fight back. "We as reporters don't like to lobby on our own behalf, we don't like to be special pleaders. But the government's taking advantage of that. They're taking advantage of that by coming after us one at a time," Risen said in accepting the Guild's highest honor, the Herbert Block Freedom Award. "That is why I've decided I have to begin to speak out," he said, after eight years of near silence while fighting the government's demand that he testify against an alleged source. "Having been forced by the government to be a part of a news story instead of just writing about news stories, I feel like it's incumbent on me to express myself. "I do believe that today our business is facing an existential challenge from the government."

Job Security, Pensions on the Line at Bezos-Owned Post

Guild members were out in force in front of the Washington Post for a lunch-hour protest today, nine days after the start of promises to be tough bargaining at the newspaper now owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Job and retirement security are both on the line. In bargaining a year ago, "we said the publisher might have put forward the most contemptuous proposal in memory," said Freddy Kunkle, co-chair of the Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Guild. "We were wrong. We think this one is as bad, maybe even worse” The company is proposing major pension cuts and changes that would eliminate medical retirement benefits and begin to dismantle the defined benefit pension. The changes are already being made for nonunion workers. Employees hired before 2009 could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits if Post management gets its way.

Long Congressional Vacations Leave FOIA Reforms in Limbo

Neither Senate Judiciary Committee promises nor bipartisan support has been enough to push Congress to take action on Freedom of Information Act reforms to make government more transparent. As Lena Williams reports, "FOIA wasn’t the only piece of legislation to get short-shrift. When Congress left town -- a week before its originally scheduled date of Sept. 29 – it had passed just two bills since its summer vacation: a stopgap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown Oct. 1 and authorization to arm Syrian rebels." One of the bill's key reforms would be a "public interest balancing test" that would be required of federal agencies before automically invoking a FOIA exemption. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, co-sponsor of the bill with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, suggests agencies are abusing FOIA, with a dramatic increase in exemptions from 2012 to 2013. “This does not exemplify the presumption of openness that we expect from our government,” Leahy said. Media organizations and First Amendment activists, including the Guild, say it will continue to take a strong, concerted effort to get other lawmakers to pay attention. 

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