In Bitchy Outburst, Risen Confirms Lithium Story Timed to Afghan Setbacks

Frankly, I’m willing to cut James Risen some slack. So much so that when Monday’s !Afghanistan is Rich! story appeared, I didn’t post my first instincts: that the story felt more like a planted David Sanger or William Broad story (or, for old time’s sake, Judy) than a James Risen story.

But in response to well-deserved skepticism about the story, Risen went on a bit of a rant–complete with bloggers in their pajamas. And while his rant refutes the suggestion that this was entirely planted (Milt Bearden had told him about the mineral finds some time ago), it absolutely confirms one of the concerns raised about the piece: that its timing had everything to do with recent setbacks in Afghanistan and, probably, Petraeus’ testimony before Congress.

“Several months ago, Milt started telling me about what they were finding,” Risen said. “At the beginning of the year, I said I wanted to do a story on it.” At first both Bearden and [Paul Brinkley, the guy at DOD tasked with rebuilding the Afghan economy] resisted, Risen said, but he eventually wore them down. “Milt convinced Brinkley to talk to me,” he said, “and Brinkley convinced other Pentagon officials to go on the record. I think Milt realized that things were going so badly in Afghanistan that people would be willing to talk about this.” In other words, according to Risen, he wasn’t handed the story in a calculated leak. Calls and e-mails to Brinkley and to Eric Clark, a Pentagon public relations contractor who works with him, were not immediately returned. [my emphasis]

According to Risen’s own account, he had been discussing this story since at least the beginning of the year. He never published a story using these sources off the record, nor did he use the material in the public record to point to these riches.

But on the eve of Petraeus’ testimony, the people he had been talking to did decide it made a good time to go on the record.

Oh, and Risen? If you read this, I’m half-dressed in prep to go cover the Marriage Equality trial. You see, calling out government spin is just what we bloggers do for breakfast. And even if I were wearing my pajamas, I’m not sure I’d be physically able to “jerk off” in them.

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49 replies
  1. klynn says:

    Oh man, he fell on his sword…and you caught it in print. He is going to be so PO’d.

    EW points out:

    He never published a story using these sources off the record, nor did he use the material in the public record to point to these riches.

    snip

    But on the eve of Petraeus’ testimony, the people he had been talking to did decide it made a good time to go on the record.

    From the his pen:

    I think Milt realized that things were going so badly in Afghanistan that people would be willing to talk about this.”

    This is just another way to say calculated leak. He just does not realize it. And that, THAT, is not so good for a seasoned journalist.

  2. temptingfate says:

    It seems that Risen thinks that only way that he can take responsibility for being played is if the causes and the effects occur in close proximity. The idea that a good plant might actually require a bit of nurturing and then a coordinated release by multiple sources seems to be out of the question. My guess is that he, along with other journalists that wait for information to be officially released, gets played fairly often.

  3. Jim White says:

    Oh my. Now Marcy needs to get a shot at saying “jerk off” on MSNBC to go with her “blow job” outburst. Maybe we should gather up a large supply of smelling salts for the NBC executives next time she’s scheduled to appear…

    • klynn says:

      LOL!

      EW,

      That tweet you linked to (brain bleach needed)…Is Risen involved in a wee bit of projection? We need an in-house expert analysis on that.

  4. allan says:

    In the Yahoo article, Risen sounds incredibly stressed out.
    Can’t imagine why.
    Was the trillion dollar story a quid pro quo?

  5. GregB says:

    No wonder General Petreaus swooned like a teen at a Jonas Brothers concert at the congressional hearings. He was afraid the jig was up.

  6. boltbrain says:

    News reporting is changing and Risen’s yet another reporter to miss then news. Has he noticed yet he went on a rant with … Yahoo?

  7. ThingsComeUndone says:

    I think Milt realized that things were going so badly in Afghanistan that people would be willing to talk about this

    This is a long term planted story. The timing cinches it this guy has no idea when he’s being used. I must play poker with such an easy mark:)

  8. bobschacht says:

    Oh, and Risen? If you read this, I’m half-dressed in prep to go cover the Marriage Equality trial.

    {groan} EW, get ready for Risen to refer to you and other bloggers as “half-dressed.” What were you thinking?!?

    But thanks for undressing Risen on this.

    Bob in AZ

  9. Mary says:

    It is probably worth keeping in mind that last month Obama’s grand jury was asked to and did revive subpoenas involving Risen (and hasn’t Dana Priest been awfully quiet since Obamaco has been in office?) so it’s not like the guy doesn’t have some reasons to want to play along.

    But who’s going to break the news to Jon Stewart (who highlighted the piece and its timing last night) that the Daily Show is a blog and he’s a pajama clad blogger living in his mom’s basement?

      • scribe says:

        Pajama-clad bloggers: getting more and better reporting done before breakfast (and for a lot less money) than the credulous cutouts at NYT do all day. And in their bunny slippers, too….

        You’d think that if Sulzberger and family were really interested in cutting costs and putting out a product that sells, they’d hire them some bloggers and shitcan the expensive steno pool they’ve got working for them now. I guess they must not want to make profit, have a continuing business or put out a good product (never good things for a public company to be doing, BTW).

  10. BearCountry says:

    I don’t think that these reporters are being played in any way. I think that they are in on the whole thing and coordinate as necessary with the sources. No one would ever say that judy miller was anything but a player. By his position as a “serious” reporter, risen is not one to print a good news story to distract from a bad news story. We all can see that.

  11. Agent420 says:

    Now we know the real reason we are in a war in Afghanistan. It’s all about lithium and the money to be made from that element.

    • MarkH says:

      I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I think there are at least two major ideas involved here.

      One, MMS continues leasing to drill despite presidential moratorium, press pounds on Obama even though he’s done all humanly possible to stop the spill, suddenly Afghanistan war isn’t going well, continued talk of a weak economy and Euro collapse, and all the other attacks without substance.

      Two, worries Obama might pull out of Afghanistan early worry the military, so they give him a reason to stay (help the Afghans stabilize their government with new resources) and set it up to blame Obama for “LOSING” if he doesn’t stay there.

      Three, a bigger issue is whether the Green Revolution continues and in Afghanistan they hold out a very big lure for us to stay to get the Lithium which can feed batteries and push the Green Revolution along. Along with this is a political argument that if we stay for that we’re not any better than Bush who went to Iraq purportedly for the oil. He didn’t get the oil money and probably nobody will get rich off Afghanistan. If that were possible somebody would already have done it.

      Tie it all together and what you have is a Right-Wing assault, across the spectrum from the TEA party to the bureaucracy and military. It’s campaign time!

      The correct response is to get rid of those who undermine our government’s policies (that may mean a new bureaucrat here or there) and a continuation of policy coming from the White House to be executed by the government everywhere it works.

      You might also add in the crazy case of Americans having their passports canceled while they’re overseas and with their names on the no-fly list, so they can’t get home. It’s incredibly stupid and embarrassing.

      One journalist put it well the other night when he said Obama & crew play the inside game very very well, but not the outside (public) game. But, their inside game is WH & Congress and doesn’t necessarily include the agencies & departments.

      I’d say Obama has been confident of his department heads and hasn’t felt much need to crack any whips in their direction. But now, perhaps there are Right-Wing interests in government which feel it’s time to talk to journalists and ignore presidential orders and do other things which make Obama look bad. They’ve revealed themselves and if there are serious violations they need to be seriously punished.

      Republicans don’t have a visible individual leader, so they’re using dirty underhanded tactics and Dems need to respond.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        One journalist put it well the other night when he said Obama & crew play the inside game very very well, but not the outside (public) game. But, their inside game is WH & Congress and doesn’t necessarily include the agencies & departments.

        That “outside” game I think is the one called public governance. That’s the hard one, not raking in money from corporations for not governing. Obama is showing himself painfully weak, poorly directed and poorly assisted. He’s losing the public game not because of resources or opposition; it’s because he’s not playing it.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Wow, this comment strikes me as absolutely brilliant, MarkH.

        I’d also connected the lithium to Green Economy requirements, but totally missed the CheneyBot, reactionaryRepublican aspect. (Feeling kinda dumb…).

        Thx for this one!

        • Hmmm says:

          Another interpretation of the Afghanistan mineral wealth situation might be that rather than staying to exploit it ourselves, we may stay in order to squat on it so as to prevent anyone else from benefiting from it. * Cough *china* Cough *.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Accusing bloggers of masturbating, while calling what he does journalism, itself seems auto-erotic. I suppose that means Mr. Risen has a large box of kleenex at his desk, to share with journalist friends.

    Character assassination is the last refuge of little minds and ambitious journalists who feel effective competition running close behind them. I hate to disappoint Mr. Risen, but that hot breath he feels on his shirt collar is not Sarah Palin’s.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Well, I’ve checked out a few of those blog posts that TBogg has linked to from time to time and let me just say… if you assume that ‘blogger’ means some of the nitwits that TBogg unearths, I can actually understand Risen’s frustration. I don’t think that he had EW in mind when he referenced pajama-clad bloggers.

      ============
      As for the whole minerals in Afghanistan ‘news’… ummmmm…. if we could time-travel to about 4,000 BCE, no doubt some tribesman would be laughing merrily at the absurdity of us moderns.

      I have an abiding interest in the origins of writing, ancient alphabets, and the origin of cities, so given a lot of the odd flotsam and peculiar research (classics and related) stuff that I’ve read, it’s kind of gobsmacking that anyone would call this talk of minerals in Afghanistan ‘news’. What vain egocentrics we moderns are (!).

      For starters, the lapis lazuli that graced the religious statues of the ancient Near East almost certainly originated in what we now call Northern Afghanistan. Since traders had to keep records, while traveling along caravan routes that crossed cultural and language groups, they had to figure out ways of writing down what was bought and sold. (They also had to figure out ways of measuring the weight, but that would lead us to ancient astronomy and the constellation Libra; clearly, I digress…).

      All kinds of minerals have been mined in Afghanistan for at least 6,000 years.
      I always kind of assumed that those caves that AQ uses are probably the remnants of ancient mining operations, although I’ve no proof and haven’t ever sought out information to confirm my hunch.

      As for Petraeus, he’s been asked to do the impossible, as far as I’m concerned. But then, I think we’re totally out of good options. It appears to be taking a toll on him, and I wish him good health.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Those aren’t the bloggers worth Risen’s time to respond to, or even read, now are they?

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Risen’s bitchiness is also a good indicator that the criticism hit home and that the holes in his story are too big to cap. With what he gets paid, FDL could hire half a dozen better reporters that the ghost of Izzy Stone would likely be proud of rather than laugh at.

  14. onitgoes says:

    If Mr. Risen has to resort to dissing bloggers, then we know we’re onto a good story. Well done, EW! And may there be many more where this one came from.

    The state of “journalism” in this nation has really gone to an all-time low now that the corporations are calling the shots and telling the, cough cough, “journalists” what and when to write/produce their stories. If they’re busted, well, so be it. Mock the bloggers; won’t make any difference.

    Good story; good commentary. Thanks. We here at FDL always knew that was way more to Afghanistan to looking for Osama, about whom we hear very little these days anyway … bin Laden was never the issue; he was just a smoke screen for the rubes. We’re not rubes here.

  15. sponson says:

    Gee, seems to remind me of something. Wasn’t this Risen guy involved in a “well-timed” story before, as in heavily delayed? Something about a 2004 election and some Bush guy and some Kerry guy who would have won the Presidency had the story been published in a timely way?

  16. zeabow says:

    I don’t know if risen deserves a free pass … if he would have broken the story sooner on the nsa program, we likely wouldn’t have had to suffer thru 4 more disastrous years of the bush administration. I think the editor of the NY Tines may have called the shots on that though. If I remember right, the only reason that the information was broken was that risen had a book to sell. So, one could say, that he only relinquished the info to sell his book …. which came out after the 2004 election … and the public be damned to 4 more years of the worst president of our nation’s history.

    Z

  17. b2020 says:

    I am not sure Risen got played – this was an insider play from the get go.
    I can agree with this:

    “As we see, this isn’t some every day propaganda trying pitifully to sell a trillion dollar debt-war to a nation of unemployed. This is a very specific talking point explicitly targeting the foreign policy community [..] This is very real and very effective military propaganda.”
    http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/54645

    This seems the plausible next step in the evolution of the National Disinformation State – who cares what the voters think, the only constituency that matters are the representatives and their advisors, the think tanks and the rest of the ‘stablishment circle jerk.

    Hard to believe that Risen wasn’t writing for his peers, and did not understand motive and incentive of everybody involved.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      As clear from my previous comment, I sometimes try to take the Really Big Picture View. A few thousand years or so can inform one’s thoughts in a way that the present kerfuffles fail to do.

      Without defending Risen, the NYT, or anyone else, I’ll simply pose the difficult question: do you really want some heroin lord extracting exhorbitant sums for lithium? You may. Or you may not.

      What concerns me is a point raised best on Dylan Ratigan’s MSNBC program: we have seen in the past 100 years no end of human disaster when dictators-thugs control resources; they extract profits and send everyone else straight to hell. People don’t have water, they breed like flies, have atrocious rates of infant mortality, and lead shitty lives.

      At least everyone knows now that there are minerals in Afghanistan.
      So now what?
      Be simpering little lefties and huff about how rotten the world is?
      Or grapple with the much more difficult facts that yes, we do use lithium.
      Yes, we do want access to metals.

      Question is: do we want it at the expense of requiring that some people we don’t even know, nor are likely to meet, will be consigned to the equivilent of human hell?

      People I read on this blog won’t want that.
      Question then is: how to create structures that grab those minerals from the hands of thugs and spread that wealth around a bit, so that Afghanis can have fresh water, and education (hoping they desire it), and better food supplies on their own land?

      Maybe I’m just a dreamer.
      More likely I’m the sort of asshole pragmatist who’s kind of fed up with easy answers.

      This is a very, very complicated problem and if we fuck this one up, it will absolutely haunt us.

      • freepatriot says:

        At least everyone knows now that there are minerals in Afghanistan.
        So now what?

        according to my “colonial asshole” guide book, our evil overlord emperor king dictator President is supposed to swoop in and claim OUR new found mineral wealth

        first we kill subdue subjugate placate the natives,

        then we force them to dig up the minerals for slave minimum substandard free market wages

        and WE get to steal keep the profits

        it’s a real effective method

        it’s in all the history books

        and I hear it’s been REALLY SUCCESSFUL in this part of the world

        /teh stupid

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          There’s been some pretty good archeological sleuthing on ancient mining. Turns out that the Christian-Western visions of hell come from ancient mines: dark, smoke, fires, … hellish.

          And the slaves? They were held in lower value than the iron chains that bound them.

          To be ‘sent to the mines’ was — literally — a death sentence.

          And the more starved and skinny you were, the more mine shafts they could send your wasted body into. Hellish, indeed.
          The 4,000 BCE version of neofeudalism.

          • bobschacht says:

            I won’t disagree with you. I’m an archaeologist, and my name means “shaft or hole in the ground,” which could apply equally to mining or archaeology. My Schacht ancestors, however, were not known to be miners (perhaps they just farmed near a mining town). However, there were miners on my mother’s side of the family– Cornish miners who emigrated to southern Wisconsin just in time to mine lead for Civil War bullets, and then silver in Colorado– but only to earn enough to buy a farm in Iowa. But my miner ancestor wrote some harrowing tales of life as a miner, and the mines he left in Cornwall must have been something to want to get away from. He was a gnarly dude, and a survivor, however, living a goodly long life, and well loved by my grandmother.

            Bob in AZ

            Bob in AZ

  18. freepatriot says:

    Frankly, I’m willing to cut James Risen some slack

    that’s the part where I fail “Bleeding Heart Liberal – 101”

    I don’t cut anybody slack when he’s been used as a sock puppet for propaganda

    I ain’t no pacifist

    (expletive deleted) Risen

    see, I made it “kid friendly” this time

    this dirty fuckin hippy thingy is harder than it looks …

    high everybody

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Damn ;-)))

      I disagree this time, freep.
      But it’s always good to see you!

      Even if you’re only coming around to whup my ass.
      Heh.

    • Mary says:

      High backatcha Freep.

      I was dragging backside depressed yesterday, but since then there’s been a Jon Stewart wonderpiece and a Freep sighting. Life is better.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I suspect the quoted excerpt is snark, directed at someone who thinks bloggers paid a tenth or less of what Risen makes do nothing but masturbate underneath the desks their computers are on, instead of accomplishing reporting he can’t always keep up with. Frankly, Risen’s alleged desperate characterization sounds like projection.

  19. eblair says:

    Here is a generalization that is by and large true: People who are found out lying are generally much angrier when first confronted than people who have simply been falsely accused because the latter typically believes that the truth will vindicate them.

  20. Garrett says:

    James Risen is saying that there are systems reasons why the press continually prints what the administration wants them to print, when the administration wants them to print it.

    It’s not like he is on their payroll or anything, not like he is an intentional operative in their favor.

    OK. Very largely true.

  21. thatvisionthing says:

    Oh, and Risen? If you read this, I’m half-dressed in prep to go cover the Marriage Equality trial. You see, calling out government spin is just what we bloggers do for breakfast. And even if I were wearing my pajamas, I’m not sure I’d be physically able to “jerk off” in them.

    Betsy McCall grows up… suddenly I see a Marcy Goes Blogging paper doll.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      oh hell this is too much fun — wandering sideways, you get to better and better places — can you say Dress Marcy? A dress-me-blogger series? (How do they do that?)

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