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“Fascinating personal account by James Risen of his battles with New York Times editors who were colluding with CIA, NSA and White House to kill, alter or delay his explosive stories” -Jeremy Scahill
“At the time, I usually went along with these negotiations. About a year before 9/11, for instance, I learned that the CIA had sent case officers to Afghanistan to meet with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the rebel Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban government. The CIA officers had been sent to try to convince Massoud to help the Americans go after Osama bin Laden, who was then living in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s protection.
When I called the CIA for comment, then-CIA Director George Tenet called me back personally to ask me not to run the story. He told me the disclosure would threaten the safety of the CIA officers in Afghanistan. I agreed.
I finally wrote the story after 9/11, but I later wondered whether it had been a mistake to hold it before the attacks on New York City and Washington. Independent investigations of 9/11 later concluded that the CIA’s effort to target bin Laden before the attacks had been half-hearted. If I had reported the story before 9/11, the CIA would have been angry, but it might have led to a public debate about whether the United States was doing enough to capture or kill bin Laden. That public debate might have forced the CIA to take the effort to get bin Laden more seriously.
My experience with that story and subsequent ones made me much less willing to go along with later government requests to hold or kill stories. And that ultimately set me on a collision course with the editors at the New York Times, who were still quite willing to cooperate with the government.”
Another incident in the article:
But in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, while Miller and other Times reporters were landing a string of big stories that dazzled the editors, I was getting frustrated that so few of my sources in the intelligence community were willing to talk to me about what they thought of the Bush administration’s case for war. I kept hearing quiet complaints that the White House was pressuring CIA analysts to cook the books and deliver intelligence reports that followed the party line on Iraq. But when I pressed, few were willing to provide specifics. Intermediaries would sometimes tell me that they were receiving anguished calls from CIA analysts, but when I asked to talk to them, they refused.
After weeks of reporting in late 2002 and early 2003, I was able to get enough material to start writing stories that revealed that intelligence analysts were skeptical of the Bush administration’s evidence for going to war, particularly the administration’s assertions that there were links between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda.
But after I filed the first story, it sat in the Times computer system for days, then weeks, untouched by editors. I asked several editors about the story’s status, but no one knew.
Finally, the story ran, but it was badly cut and buried deep inside the paper. I wrote another one, and the same thing happened. I tried to write more, but I started to get the message. It seemed to me that the Times didn’t want these stories.
What angered me most was that while they were burying my skeptical stories, the editors were not only giving banner headlines to stories asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, they were also demanding that I help match stories from other publications about Iraq’s purported WMD programs. I grew so sick of this that when the Washington Post reported that Iraq had turned over nerve gas to terrorists, I refused to try to match the story. One mid-level editor in the Washington bureau yelled at me for my refusal. He came to my desk carrying a golf club while berating me after I told him that the story was bullshit and I wasn’t going to make any calls on it.
As a small protest, I put a sign on my desk that said, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” It was New York Journal publisher William Randolph Hearst’s supposed line to artist Frederic Remington, whom he had sent to Cuba to illustrate the “crisis” there before the Spanish-American War. I don’t think my editors even noticed the sign.
As I took the stand, I thought about how much press freedom had been lost and how drastically national security reporting had changed in the post-9/11 era.