Bennett may get his wish. A federal prosecutor has asked a grand jury to look into a book that Risen wrote. It details not only warrantless wiretapping but also how, when it came to covert operations in the Middle East, the Administration made "mistake piled on mistake" caused an "espionage disaster" and was "operating in the blind" when it came to Iran.
Risen was subpoenaed to tell a grand jury who he talked to about Iran — in other words, to reveal his anonymous sources. So far, the reporter has refused to talk. And recently, his lawyer moved to quash the subpoena. Some veteran investigative journalists wrote letters in support of that motion. One of them told me that if Risen is forced to testify, the public will be the real loser. Here's why: Anonymous sources have a lot to lose if their identities are revealed because a lot of them are powerful or prominent. So, if the Federal government can force a reporter like Risen to reveal their identities, those sources will clam up. There'd be more corruption and wrongdoing in Washington that the public would never learn about.
Administration officials seem not to mind keeping the public in the dark.
But for muckrakers and whistleblowers, it's getting harder and harder to expose corruption and wrongdoing.
Take the case of former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds: She blew the whistle on massive incompetence at the Bureau — sloppy translations, missed messages from terror suspects. She even alleged that insiders were leaking secrets to foreign agents. She lost her job for it.
Just after Congress got interested in her story — and a bipartisan group of Senators said they found her claims credible enough to warrant an investigation — the administration retroactively classified everything that she knew, pretty much shutting down any chance of an investigation. U.S. journalists have found it nearly impossible to look into her claims. Over the past year, there's been only one article on her in a major newspaper, and it simply announced that she'd won a freedom-of-speech award. Meanwhile, the TIMES OF LONDON has published three stories — just this year — digging into her claim that Administration officials sold secrets to foreign governments.
Sometimes the Administration's efforts to squelch critics seem downright petty: Reporters for the Web site TALKING POINTS MEMO, for example, led the way in showing how the Administration encouraged federal prosecutors to go after Democrats, but go easy on Republicans. So the Department of Justice kicked the web site off of its press list. A small thing, sure, but it rankled one member of the House enough that he asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey about it at a hearing. Mukasey's response? "I don't know."
Recently, the Department of Justice reinstated TALKING POINTS MEMO to its press list — right around the same time that the web site won an award for its reporting on the Department of Justice.
So, Administration officials stonewall lawmakers and try to silence critics — or just make their jobs harder. That's not news. But this time, a reporter could go to jail. The irony in James Risen's predicament is that he was one of the reporters who revealed that the Administration could never have secretly listened in on phone calls, or read emails, without help from big telecom firms — the conglomerates that supply most Americans with phone or Internet service. After the article appeared, civil-liberties advocates filed lawsuits against the conglomerates trying to hold them accountable for helping the Administration break the law. Just recently, the Senate voted to grant those telecom companies immunity from the lawsuits — to let them off the hook — while the reporter who'd exposed them fought to stay out of jail.
Rick Karr is a correspondent for BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.
BILL MOYERS: It's time once again to take a look at some of the comments you've been sending to us at the JOURNAL. You've been writing and we've been reading.
When Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul were excluded from participating in their parties' presidential debates, we brought them on our show to give them a chance to speak their mind.
RON PAUL: There's indeed a lot of people would like to exclude me from the Republican Party. But the party is awful small. Why would they want to exclude is, if we want to work within the Republican Party?
DENNIS KUCINICH: This is about the right of the American people to hear a real discussion on the issues that affect their lives and to see if there's anybody out there who relates to their practical aspirations.
BILL MOYERS: Many Of You Chimed In With Your Own Thoughts:
It's so refreshing to listen to candidates who are obviously intelligent and base their policy recommendations on a consistent moral vision...Even though they have opposite views of what role the federal government should play, they are both straight talkers who understand and speak for ordinary Americans...
It's disingenuous to discuss candidates that are ignored in our corporate duopoly election system without mentioning or actually interviewing Green Party candidates... For all the indifference shown to the Green Party by the corporate press and derision by the so-called progressive press, the fact is the Greens have 234 elected officials in 28 states...The Greens are growing, whether you know it or not; whether you like it or not.
As long as we allow corporate media to decide our leaders we will have a corporate president. Just follow the money and you will have a president whose only interest is maintaining the status quo of big business and Wall Street enjoying great wealth while the rest of America is facing a deep recession and the middle class is dying...
BILL MOYERS: Noted scholar and author Shelby Steele gave us a bracing look into How Barack Obama's candidacy is shaking up the rhetoric of race and politics in America.
SHELBY STEELE: And a part of the infatuation with Obama is because he's something of an invisible man. He's a kind of a projection screen. And you sort of see more your - the better side of yourself when you look at Obama than you see actually Barack Obama.
Mr. Steele is obviously a brilliant man. While this country's shame is its treatment of African Americans, perhaps the greatest tragedy is this good man's completely jaded view.
Shelby Steele dares to critically examine the Obama candidacy... The notion of an "Invisible Candidate" resonates, as does the reference to a hollow rhetoric of "Hope" and "Change". This Obama love fest is something more appropriate for a rock star than a serious contender for the presidency. It makes both the electorate and the media look foolish. Now will the Real Obama please stand up?
In my view, Shelby Steele...is unable to trust the fact that Obama has a view of American society that is not crippled by America's segregated past...I do not know whether Obama will be president, but I am grateful to see him and the many others of his age (of all races and genders) compete with such confidence. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is coming to fruition.
BILL MOYERS: And in a recent essay, I explored what the investigation of steroid abuse in major league baseball reveals about america as a whole.
BILL MOYERS: Suppose our national past time has become our national pathology? Ours is a society on steroids, and we're as blind as baseball's owners were a decade ago.
As someone who's never given a hoot about baseball -- or any team sport -- it's always been immaterial to me whether athletes take drugs or not...By contrast, we're all embroiled in the larger political/economic/ethical issues you raise and...I'm not sure it's fair to compare a rigged system that victimizes almost everyone with narrow areas of endeavor that needn't occupy our attention unless by choice.
(The Other) Katharine Harris
Baseball is indeed a barometer for things American, and this essay confirms how dire the deviations of the sport have been. Do we watch the sport or are we watching the juice? The sense that the game must be played fair is a casualty of the struggle to win at all costs, and this ethical erosion rots the roots of America.
BILL MOYERS: Keep telling us what you think of the broadcast - by mail, e-mail, or on the blog at pbs.org.