Accuracy in Media

In what was supposed to be a favorable review of the James Risen book, State of War, Walter Isaacson says his own “guess” is that it “smells like it’s 80 percent true.” But I don’t remember the publisher, Simon & Schuster, promoting the book that way. This must be the new standard of judging books now that James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces has been exposed as a fraud.

The Isaacson treatment of Risen’s book appeared in the February 5 edition of the New York Times Book Review. What Isaacson is saying, of course, is that he has no way to judge much of what is in the book, since it relies on anonymous sources.  He seems to think most of it will turn out to be true someday. 

In one concrete case, we noted that Risen makes a charge that has turned out not to be true, based on currently available information. He refers in his book to how the Bush Administration has supposedly established “a series of secret prisons around the world?” for suspected terrorists. But a headline over a January 25 story by Craig S. Smith in Risen’s own New York Times was “Europe’s C.I.A. Inquiry finds no Evidence of Secret Prisons.” The story reported, “An inquiry by the Council of Europe into allegations that the C.I.A. has operated secret detention centers in Eastern Europe has turned up no evidence that such centers ever existed, though the leader of the inquiry, Dick Marty, said there are enough ‘indications’ to justify continuing the investigation.”

Risen did accurately report an illegal leak of classified information about the NSA program to monitor Al Qaeda operations on American soil.  CIA Director Porter J. Goss alluded to Risen when he recently told the Senate Intelligence Committee that leaks of classified information about agency activities have caused “severe damage” to the CIA’s operations and that a grand jury should be called to investigate and question reporters.

Defending Risen, Isaacson says the information about the NSA program “appears to take care to avoid revealing (although I fear we cannot be sure) any technical procedures or details that would be useful to al Qaeda operatives, who presumably had already surmised that the United States was trying to eavesdrop on them.” Of course, this is just his opinion. My opinion?maybe just a “guess”?is that Porter Goss probably knows better.

Meantime, a February 12 article in the Times reports that a federal investigation into the illegal leak of classified information to Risen is picking up steam. The paper says the probe is “rapidly expanding.”

Subscribers to the AIM Report by mail get postcards they can send to Risen. They say:

Dear Mr. Risen:

We appreciate good investigative reporting into government misconduct, but you crossed the line when you received and published an illegal leak of classified information about an NSA program to uncover planned terrorist activities on U.S. soil. You are eager to expose government secrets but have not been forthcoming about why the New York Times waited a year to publish the story, and why it did so shortly before your book was released. We find it troubling that you insist on accountability from the government but the Times is refusing to be accountable to its readers and the public. We hope that you cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of this matter and tell the truth rather than go to jail to protect your anonymous sources.

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