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James Risen, an investigative reporter for the New York Times and an author who is currently under threat of incarceration for refusing to reveal his sources of information detailing a botched CIA operation dealing with Iran, will receive Colby College’s Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism Oct. 5 in Waterville, President David A. Greene announced.
Risen has received recognition for some of the most important reporting in the 21st century. In 2006 he and his New York Times reporting partner Eric Lichtblau won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for their “carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate on the boundary line between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberty.” It was groundbreaking work on controversial National Security Agency practices seven years before the Edward Snowden revelations. Risen also was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer for Explanatory Reporting for post-9/11 coverage in the Times.
The Lovejoy Award has been given annually since 1952 to recognize courage in journalism. It honors the memory of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Colby’s valedictorian in 1826 and an abolitionist newspaper publisher who was killed in Alton, Ill., in 1837 for condemning slavery and defending his right to publish. John Quincy Adams called him America’s first martyr to freedom of the press.
Risen will accept the award and an honorary Colby doctorate at a formal convocation Sunday, Oct. 5, at 5:30 p.m. in Colby’s Lorimer Chapel. The event, which includes a speech by the recipient, is open to the public.
Risen is the author of four books including State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, a 2006 national bestseller. His refusal to identify the sources of information in the book has led to more than six years of judicial wrangling that most recently made news when the Supreme Court declined to review the case in which Risen has refused to testify despite receiving a subpoena, according to a New York Times story in June.
“Jim Risen is an accomplished journalist with a record of important national security reporting,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, chair of the Lovejoy selection committee and curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. “That reporting is threatened by government efforts to force the identification of unnamed sources critical to many investigative stories. Jim has demonstrated courage in his commitment to protect his sources and combat pressures that would undermine his work and that of other journalists.”
The committee that chose Risen includes Lipinski; Steve Engelberg, editor in chief of ProPublica; Gregory Moore, editor of the Denver Post; Mike Pride, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes and editor emeritus of the Concord [N.H.] Monitor; David Shribman, vice president and executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and Professor Dan Shea, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby. Rebecca Corbett, a Colby graduate who is assistant managing editor of the New York Times and a member of the committee, abstained on the decision to honor Risen.
Associated events Oct. 5 include a panel discussion, “Watchdog on a Short Leash: The Escalating Conflict between Press Freedoms and National Security Surveillance,” featuring national experts and top journalists, at 4 p.m. in Ostrove Auditorium, Diamond Building. It will be moderated by Corbett.
Past winners of the Lovejoy Award include Katharine Graham (in 1973) and Bob Woodward (in 2012) of the Washington Post; Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger, whose reporting brought Ku Klux Klansmen to justice for civil rights murders; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum for First Amendment Rights; and David Halberstam.