Press Freedom Defense Fund leader says Trump poses unprecedented threat to journalists

A former New York Times reporter who was threatened by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations with jail for refusing to turn over sources for a 2006 book on Monday warned that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE poses an unprecedented threat to the freedom of the press.

James Risen, now the director of the Press Freedom Defense Fund, told “Rising” that the Obama administration set a “terrible” example for how the White House should respect the freedom of the press, but Trump has taken the issue even further by “demagoguing” media outlets like CNN among others.

“A lot of conservatives try to point to me as an example of Obama on press freedom and I fully agree with that — the view that he had a terrible record on press freedom,” Risen told Hill.TV co-host Buck Sexton in response to a question over whether the Obama administration had a more damning stance against the press.

“The difference with Trump is that he is demagoguing the issue in a way we haven't seen in modern American history,” he continued.

Risen admitted he never thought he would see treatment of the press get to this point, citing he thought he saw the worst of it under President Obama. The veteran journalist has repeatedly criticized Obama’s treatment of the press, calling the administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

In 2009, Obama renewed efforts started under the George W. Bush administration, compelling Risen to disclose sources from his 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." In parts of the book, Risen detailed a secret plan by the CIA to sabotage Iran’s developing nuclear program.

At the time, Risen had two choices — testify before a grand jury and disclose the source behind the account or face imprisonment, but calls for his testimony were later dropped after a former CIA officer was later identified and charged for leaking the details. In addition to leading the Press Freedom Defense Fund, Risen is also now a reporter for The Intercept.

While some critics accuse CNN reporter Jim Acosta of grandstanding, Risen said the controversy surrounding Acosta’s press pass is a symbol of Trump’s repeated attempts to discredit press and taking it even further in ways that Obama never did.

The White House re-upped threats to revoke Acosta’s press credentials after they were temporarily restored by a federal judge last week. President Trump told Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday that he would have Acosta removed "if he misbehaves," and threatened to end press conferences altogether if it happens again.

“By going to the people constantly to try to destroy their belief in the press and I think the Acosta incident is really just a symbol of that — it’s a symbol of an attempt to discredit not only CNN but the entire press choir in Washington and really more generally the press all over the country,” Risen told Hill.TV.

To make matters worse, Risen argued that the press still hasn’t found a way to deal with Trump, saying the media's constant coverage of the president has created a toxic “echo chamber.”

“Trump is manipulating them by lying constantly and as a result he’s making their job this vicious cycle where they don’t really get to the underlying policy issues of the administration very often,” he said.

— Tess Bonn