Risen Makes Editors Sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement

The increasingly indispensible NY Observer Off the Record reports this week that James Risen required his NYT editors to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they could see the manuscript for his book. And they didn’t see the manuscript until after they decided to run the wiretap story.

When they decided to send the long-gestating N.S.A. piece to press in December, Timeseditors couldn’t confirm whether Mr. Risen’s manuscript contained thewiretapping story or not. In the end, they didn’t see the book until aweek before it was in bookstores.Through several months in late 2005, Mr. Risen and bureau chief Phil Taubman had clashed over whether Timeseditors would get a preview of the book’s closely guarded contents,sources said. It was not until Dec. 27—11 days after the wiretappingstory had run—that Mr. Risen relented and allowed Mr. Taubman to seethe manuscript. Mr. Risen insisted that senior editors who viewed thepre-publication copy sign nondisclosure agreements and agree not todiscuss the book’s contents.

This news adds an intriguing wrinkle to speculation surrounding the publication of the NYT scoop. Was Risen withholding his manuscript in order to force the NYT into publishing the story? Did he violate NYT’s ethical guidelines in order to ensure the stories he tells in State of War got to print?

  1. John Casper says:

    â€Wow. My respect for NYT’s editors grows by leaps and bounds.†Sorry emptywheel, I am not getting this. Was this a snark or are you saying the NYT’s editors conspired with Risen against Pinch Sulzberger? Or is it something else?

  2. Anonymous says:

    It appears that Taubman was the primary player in this. But it certainly appears that, after spiking Risen’s stories in 2004, he may have been trying to gauge whether he really had to publish them in 2005 to avoid looking like complete stooges for the Administration.

  3. lemondloulou54 says:

    Not sure I agree with you on this. I worked in the rights office in a publishing company that often had books like Risen’s–newsbreaking books. The Times’ guidelines protect them from being scooped by one of their own reporters. That’s not a bad thing. The non-disclosures are ordinary with a book of this nature–otherwise one loses their â€first serial†rights to the book. The whole Taubman/Risen relationship is no doubt pretty shaky. But Risen is no boy scout when it comes to the Wen Ho Lee affair either. I have noticed that Risen has been very diplomatic on the talk show circuit about the Times’ decision to run the story in December. Looks to me like Eric Lichtblau is on the rise. . .

  4. Anonymous says:


    Oh, I’m not saying NDAs are bad, per se. I’m saying they seemed to be pretty contentious here. With a newspaper that didn’t have any need to ask for serialization rights, since they had already turned down two of the stories.

    I do hope that Risen et al reveal their sources on the Lee story. It was no less a smear than Judy’s leak was, after all. The difference is Lee has less recourse.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If you do not see anything from me within one month on fired o’glake then they have killed me. I am very healthy.
    …If only we had a 2-party system. Well maybe we do have a 2-party system, moderate Republicans and neocon Republicans. I speak as an utterly disenfrancised Democrat. We lost, ok, got it.

    I grew up in middle America, where they don’t like to be told to vote for someone who will take away their guns and who will secretly give birth control to their 13-year-olds. Speaking as a parent, the birth control item makes sense. Regarding guns, I read an interesting blog that said the purpose of the Second Amendment is for when the First Amendment fails. Not sure if I’m totally with that, but interesting.

    Now the battle is within the Republican party, for a realistic policy that takes into account our international treaty obligations, versus those who would have us face the world alone. A cold choice.

    Whatever happened to universal consensus about Geneva Conventions? Do we really want to disengage from international treaties on biological and chemical war? Does the lone cowboy worldview make sense in 2006?

    The neocon party currently in charge is steering us toward yet ANOTHER war of aggression: Iran.

    I read somewhere that one of the first symptoms would be the appearance of numerous speakers we never heard of on talk shows speaking about bad bad bad bad Iran. You know, we could strike them with our vast military might. Do we even HAVE a vast military might, short of nukes? Our army is utterly depleted. Marines and air force not far behind. We could attack Iran, but then what?

    I just wonder, maybe this time the nation we are attacking would respond. They could respond by attacking Israel/Jerusalem or other western friendly targets.

    Is this the road we want to go down? For the neocons and the rapture folks, sure. I am a Christian, yet I cannot go along with those who would be fine with killing millions, on the OFF CHANCE that it might be the End Of The World and hence rapture/entrance into heaven. What if they are just totally wrong an end up killing millions of people? And they are trying to respond to the Holocaust where millions of people were killed? So….even, what? And then what about those of us who just want to live?

    The same dark forces that killed John Koker and Dr. David Kelly (â€suicidesâ€â€¦â€¦..I don’t think so) are urging us to enter another war of aggression. Are there enough of us to resist this possible beginning of a true World War III?

    Posted by: egregious at January 18, 2006 08:47 PM

  6. Anonymous says:

    EW – i wonder how the preznit learnt that the NYT was going to run the NSA story – he called them in for a chat a week before they went to print.

    Also, if the info in the book was so important that Bush called in Pinch and Keller, then presumably Risen and the publisher also got a similar treatment – but we haven’t heard anything about it.

    have you heard anything about Risen or his publisher being asked not to publish?

  7. lemondloulou54 says:

    I’m just saying that the NDA was routine. It wasn’t a decision made by Risen. The decision to insist on a NDA was made by the Free Press when they sent the manuscript out to the NYT, WaPo, Time, Newsweek. It was a gang submission and eveybody who wanted to see it had to sign a NDA. That is how publishers protect copyright on the book before it’s published, how they insure that only certain eyes see newsworthy material.

    My guess is that the book publisher and the Times met in late November. The Times had to publish at that point. They didn’t want to be scooped by anyone else for first serial rights–which, technically, were theirs to begin with. So they called the Prez and told them they were running the story.

  8. Anonymous says:


    A very plausible scenario. Although lukery reminds us of the meeting one week before they published–that might have been the President’s last ditch attempt to dissuade them. (And, as I’ll show, I think NYT’s intent about what to publish changed after the first scoop.)


    I have not heard anything about not publishing the book. The publication date was bumped up two weeks (purportedly in response to NYT reporting their story, although I’m not sure I believe that).

    Though there was a weird period on Amazon. When I first put the book in my shopping cart, it said (as Amazon normally does) â€preorder this book.†But then when I looked at it the first week of January, it said, â€This book is not available, check back to see if it becomes available.†Why would Amazon ask people to check back, when it can just automatically send the book out?

  9. lemondloulou54 says:

    Why not believe that the pub date was moved up two weeks after the Times story broke? January is the dead zone for book publishing UNLESS you have a newsworthy book. Hell, that’s probably why the book was scheduled for January in the first place. You want to publish a book like that when there’s not a lot of media competition.

    There was a meeting between the Prez and Pinch, not the Prez and the Free Press as far as I know. BTW, The Free Press is an imprint of Simon & Shuster, which is part of Viacom. S&S is one of the biggest publishers in terms of rights sales, marketing, and distribution. I never worked for them, but they’re a big corporate outfit that would have a well established pattern of publishing books like Risen’s.

    No offense, but it’s Lemond with a â€dâ€.

  10. MarkC says:

    True or not, it certainly raises the possibility that one way to quash stories from a reporter would be to go their archive and recruit a former subject of their reportage to file a defamation suit.

  11. Anonymous says:

    lemond (sorry ’bout that)

    Thanks for the perspective…

    I was quite aware that this is S&S. Publisher, among other books, of Clarke’s and O’Neill/Suskind’s anti-Bush books.

    Sumner may have started vocally rooting for the Republicans (as he said he did in 2004), but he’s willing to publish a book that will get under their skin.

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