James Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for exposing the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, has long been one of the nation's most aggressive and adversarial investigative journalists. Over the past several years, he has received at least as much attention for being threatened with prison by the Obama Justice Department (ostensibly) for refusing to reveal the source of one of his stories -- a persecution that, in reality, is almost certainly the vindictive by-product of the U.S. government's anger over his NSA reporting.
He has published a new book on the War on Terror entitled Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. There have been lots of critiques of the War on Terror on its own terms, but Risen's is one of the first to offer large amounts of original reporting on what is almost certainly the most overlooked aspect of this war: the role corporate profiteering plays in ensuring its endless continuation, and how the beneficiaries use rank fear-mongering to sustain it.
That alone makes the book very worth reading, but what independently interests me about Risen is how he seems to have become entirely radicalized by what he's discovered in the last decade of reporting, as well as by the years-long battle he has had to wage with the U.S. government to stay out of prison. He now so often eschews the modulated, safe, uncontroversial tones of the standard establishment reporter (such as when he called Obama "the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation" and said about the administration's press freedom attacks: "Nice to see the U.S. government is becoming more like the Iranian government"). He at times even channels radical thinkers, sounding almost Chomsky-esque when he delivered a multiple-tweet denunciation -- taken from a speech he delivered at Colby College -- of how establishment journalists cling to mandated orthodoxies out of fear:
"It is difficult to recognize the limits a society places on accepted thought at the time it is doing it. When everyone accepts basic assumptions, there don't seem to be constraints on ideas. That truth often only reveals itself in hindsight. Today, the basic prerequisite to being taken seriously in American politics is to accept the legitimacy of the new national security state. The new basic American assumption is that there really is a need for a global war on terror. Anyone who doesn't accept that basic assumption is considered dangerous and maybe even a traitor. The crackdown on leaks by the Obama administration has been designed to suppress the truth about the war on terror. Stay on the interstate highway of conventional wisdom with your journalism, and you will have no problems. Try to get off and challenge basic assumptions, and you will face punishment."
I spent roughly 30 minutes talking to Risen about the book, what he's endured in his legal case, attacks on press freedoms, and what is and is not new about the War on Terror's corporate profiteering. The discussion can be heard on the player below, and a transcript is provided. As Risen put it: "I wrote Pay Any Price as my answer to the government's campaign against me."
Go to The Intercept to read the rest of this article.