A few weeks back I was invited to shoot an event at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The event was titled “Prosecuting the Press” and featured the world famous investigative reporter Lowell Bergman, a true badass and currently producer/correspondent for the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE. Bergman is so tough and experienced that actor Al Pacino played him in the feature film “The Insider”, needless to say, he is the real deal!
His guest for this lecture was the currently embattled Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist and New York Times reporter, James Risen. Risen is also as tough as nails and has been challenged by the courts to reveal the name of his source for a chapter in his book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. Chapter 9 in his book talks about a secret mission called Operation MERLIN that the CIA totally screwed up. Risen caught wind of this mishap and wrote about it years later, unfortunately, both the Bush administration and the Obama administration are still trying to punish him for bringing the said incident to light. He is currently challenging the ruling of the court system who looks to send him to jail if he won’t divulge his source of the leak, by taking his case to the Supreme Court. This is currently scheduled to happen in a few months, and that is also why I chose to accept this assignment, the verdict in this case will have HUGE implications on the way the Media/Press deal with acquiring and writing their stories in the near future. Risens’ challenge is one of the bravest things for a journalist to attempt, and I fully support his rights and ideals. With the amount of hype that Julian Assange (Wikileaks), Eric Snowden and Chelsea Manning have received in the past few years for their specific leaks, the Risen case may seem miniscule in comparison. However, it must be noted that he was not the “leaker”, he merely wrote about the events the occurred, as told to him, by a trusted source…….but he is also a journalist, and is protected by the laws of the land…..right? One would think, but the rules have changed rapidly since 9/11, and the U.S. government is trying to set him up as an example….don’t burn us or we will burn you seems to be the statement they are screaming!
“The basic issue is, can we continue as journalists to protect and offer the confidentiality to someone who knows something going on in the government but doesn’t want to go public?”, asked Risen.
His question and answer event was scheduled at the Berdahl Auditorium on campus and was held in front of 300 invited guests. Among those in attendance was Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, one of the first ever to leak secrets, most famously the “Pentagon Papers” that he copied and delivered to The New York Times in 1971. His leak changed the way the Vietnam war debacle played out, and his decision and bravery no doubt helped save the lives of many U.S. soldiers.
I was fortunate enough to film all of these men and listen to their stories as well….a bonus if you will. I had read the book ahead of time to judge for myself if the leak was really worth going to jail over…..I don’t think it gave away anything that would have jeopardized or hurt America…..unless showing how reckless and childish the whole CIA plan actually was…! I truly believe that the people trying to punish Risen are embarrassed by what he revealed, and the simple fact that they got caught.
The Berkeley professors, Dean Wasserman and the students/staff who helped and attended this event should be proud of the program that they put together this night and I am glad that I could attend and do my part in capturing this small segment of history….James Risen is a true leader, and will be seen as one by years end. When asked about his own future and why he published his book, Risen responded to the crowd, “I thought, I either publish these stories or I’m getting out of journalism. The default position for a reporter should be to publish.”
The entire event was videotaped and will hopefully be around for many decades to teach other journalism students the ethics and responsibility of being professional writers.
In other happenings, I was invited to put together a small workshop on the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism campus and it couldn’t have gone any better! I was to discuss being a “Pool photographer” as well as how uploading images to the Associated Press wire service happens. I had about a dozen excited and curious students in attendance in the library, and we spoke for over 2 hours. We talked ethics, responsibility, PhotoMechanic, editing, cropping, metadata, code replacements, Photoshop actions and FTP servers……and then went through my traveling camera case. Students set up my cameras with Pocket Wizard remotes and tried my selection of different lenses and bodies……Hands on was the motto of the day. I want to personally thank everyone at Berkeley, and I truly hope to return there one day for a longer workshop to train these excited students. This was one of the best teaching experiences ever. Go Bears!!!
Alex Menendez leads a workshop at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
More images found here: http://alexmenendez.photoshelter.com/archive