In an in-depth retelling of his experience as a national security reporter for the New York Times (NYT), published in The Intercept, Risen explains how, on more than one occasion, the NYT yielded to government demands to withhold or kill his stories – including a bombshell report about the NSA’s secret surveillance program under President George W. Bush.
Jaded by previous experiences of US government interference in his work, Risen writes that his NSA story set him on a “collision course” with his editors, “who were still quite willing to cooperate with the government.” His editors at the Times had been convinced by top US officials that revealing the illegal surveillance program would endanger American lives, Risen said.
Bill Keller, the then executive editor of Times, said the newspaper’s decision to shelve the explosive report, which detailed how the NSA had “monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years,” was motivated by the lingering “trauma” of the 9/11 terror attacks, and the sobering reality that the “world was a dangerous place.”
Risen’s NSA scoop, which later won him a Pulitzer Prize, was eventually published a year after he submitted it to his seniors – but only after Bush had been safely re-elected. Risen said that upon hearing the story was finally going to print, Bush telephoned Arthur Sulzberger, the Times’s publisher, requesting a private meeting to convince him against running the story.
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