A new wave of stories chronicling President Obama’s war on whistleblowers is out, and this time, at least one story mentioned Jeffrey Sterling in terms that weren’t just about James Risen (It also mentioned my journalism class).
Jeffrey Sterling is a 1989 Millikin University graduate. He went from Millikin to Washington University and earned a law degree. After that, he joined the CIA. Sterling loved his time in the CIA. For all the bad things that have happened to him since he was fired, his love for the organization still shows through.
Instead of writing all the background on the case, why don’t you read what my kids wrote about Sterling’s case here.
Sterling’s case is different. Not because of what he allegedly did, but because of the media case that is connected to his own. Most mentions of Sterling (like this one) concentrate on the case between New York Times journalist James Risen instead of the actual case against Sterling. Risen’s case is a crucial First Amendment case that will most likely be decided by the Supreme Court and will clarify Branzburg v. Hayes, a Supreme Court decision that left more questions than answers when discussing whether reporters should be forced to give information about a crime. It’s an important case. And when journalists see this case, they’re attention immediately goes to the Risen part of the case.
And they forget Sterling.
Imagine, not only are you accused of giving away government secrets, but you can’t defend yourself in court. And, the court of public opinion cares more about Risen than it does Sterling.
That’s the world Sterling, who claims his innocence, lives in. While another of the Obama Eight, Thomas Drake, spends time giving public speeches about government overstepping its bounds and works on his Ph.D. in the evenings, Sterling remains unemployed, hampered by the stigma of a federal indictment. When Sterling had a job and was trying to get away from the government spotlight, he found himself called into work while recovering from an injury, just so the government could arrest him publicly.
When he tried to go back to Wahington University to get a LLM degree in right of publicity, he was turned down by own alma mater (story here).
Every way he turns, Sterling finds a dead end. It’s not just that he’s under indictment, it’s the fact that he’s invisibly under indictment. All Sterling can do is wait for the government to finish its fight with Risen, the New York Times and the journalism community in large, before he can step up and have his day in court.
All Sterling can do is wait – forgotten.
Being a part of the small fraternity that is that of the eight whistleblowers is difficult enough. Being the forgotten part of it is really difficult.