NYT's James Risen Cheers Rumsfeld's Exit as 'Best Thing to Happen' In Long Time
Speaking as an alumnus to students at Brown University over the weekend, liberal New York Times reporter James Risen -- best known for breaking open the government's terrorist-surveillance program -- hailed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as "the best thing to happen in a long time" and cheered that it's "sinking in" with President Bush that his foreign policy is "too radical."
Risen also typically complained of how vital the New York Times is to American democracy. The Bushies have "suppressed dissent throughout the administration," and the climate of fear is "palpable" and "frightening to watch." The press is vital because "there's been almost no congressional oversight." And cable news just rips off the newspapers: "CNN, which is probably the best of them, does almost no original reporting" and the cable networks have "24 hours to fill and nothing to say." In the Brown Daily Herald, reporter Abe Lubetkin wrote:
[Risen]...discussed the morphing relationship between the press and the government at a talk titled "Press Freedom and Covering the Bush Administration," which was sponsored by The Herald.
Risen said the administration of President George W. Bush has limited press freedom more than any administration since former President Richard Nixon's, adding that government officials are scared to talk to reporters.
"(The fear) is palpable," he said. "It's been frightening to watch."
Risen said Times editors delayed publishing the story because the Bush administration pressured them to scrap the piece. In an Oval Office meeting, Bush told Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger that if the story's publication curbed anti-terrorism efforts and terrorists struck again, the paper would have "blood on its hands."
"Even though you know it's a political effort, it's still really kind of intimidating when it's happening to you," Risen said.
Risen said he is now more confident than he was when the story appeared that the Times was legally and journalistically justified in publishing it.
"There is no law against what we've done, in spite of what the (Bush) administration wants you to believe," he said, in reference to publishing classified information.
In the wake of revelations that Times reporter Judith Miller wrote flawed stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Risen said the wiretapping story was significant because "it changed the real dynamic of the Washington press corps," inspiring other journalists to sharpen their investigative teeth.
He added that reporters' willingness to ask questions has been particularly vital in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, era.
"If you look back since 9/11, virtually everything we know about the way the Bush administration was conducting the war on terrorism has come from the press," he said. "There's been almost no congressional oversight."
For that reason, he said, it is critically important that reporters continue to dig. "If we stop, the public won't find out what's going on," he said.
In that vein, Risen had harsh words for 24-hour cable television news networks, which he accused of regurgitating information published in the Times and the Washington Post.
"CNN, which is probably the best of them, does almost no original reporting," he said, adding that such networks "have 24 hours to fill and nothing to say."
The election of Democratic majorities gave Mr. Risen hope:
"It's sinking in with Bush that his foreign policy is too radical," Risen said.
He called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation announcement "the best thing to happen in a long time" and praised Robert Gates, the man nominated to replace Rumsfeld, as "a really smart pragmatic guy."
Typically, Risen said he wouldn't be surprised if Daddy Bush engineered the whole thing. In a longer interview, Risen repeated the old canard that General Shinseki was fired for dissent. Lubetkin didn't seem to ask how much freedom of dissent is allowed inside the New York Times (imagine, say, a Times writer favoring war on Saddam).
In your lecture, you described the "climate of fear" the Bush administration has created. How have they done that? What does that mean?They've suppressed dissent throughout the administration. I'm not sure how it works. All I can do is see the effect. I've wondered why this fear exists, because it's not obvious for me. But it's palpable; it's real. I think what they do is they set examples. The famous one in the military was getting rid of General (Eric) Shinseki in the army for saying we needed more troops in Iraq before the war. And that sent a powerful message throughout the military not to speak out against (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld or Bush on the war in Iraq. But that's just one example. Throughout the government it became clear that the bosses did not want to hear alternative views of anything.