James Risen, the New York Times and the Sliming of Wen Ho Lee

Photo by DAVID HOLT | CC BY 2.0


In an extraordinary essay for The Intercept, former New York Times reporter James Risen discloses how the nation’s most self-aggrandizing newspaper suppressed numerous stories on illegal government activities at the behest of the Bush Administration, including the CIA’s use of secret prisons for torture, the faulty intelligence linking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to al-Qaeda and the NSA’s domestic spying operations.

Risen also offers a limited, modified mea culpa for his stories falsely fingering Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-American scientist who worked at Los Alamos, as a spy. Risen’s dubious reports, which destroyed Lee’s career and nearly ruined his life, were largely based on false information fed to him by anonymous sources in the government. Risen describes his own experience as a “painful lesson” (though surely his suffering was nothing compared to the torments his reports inflicted on Lee), but he fails to name the government sources who led him astray and wrongly vilified Lee. What’s he waiting for?

Here’s a piece that Alexander Cockburn and I wrote for CounterPunch in September 2000, soon after the case against Lee fell apart, about the hell the scientist endured at the hands of the Times and the FBI. — JSC.

The collapse of the government’s case against Wen Ho Lee  represents one of the greatest humiliations of a national newspaper in the history of journalism. One has to go back to the publication by the London…

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