Memo to Obama: Hands off the news media!

By Christopher B. Daly

Today brings more disappointing news about the Obama administration. As they spend more years in office, they are starting to revert to the mean and resemble a very ordinary power-grabbing, rights-trampling, self-serving operation. Alas.

NYT coverage / WaPo coverage.

Image_FreeSpeechWhile they have been busy not closing Guantanamo, this administration has been busy setting the all-time record for leaks investigations. The latest misguided attempt to stop leaks is the disclosure that the Obama Justice Dept. “secretly seized two months of phone records for reporters and editors of The Associated Press.” The rationale was that the AP had received a “leak” from someone in the government about a CIA operation to disrupt a plot unfolding in Yemen that was aimed at taking down an airliner. If true, that was a fine thing for the CIA to do. If true, then the folks in the CIA running the operation should have kept their mouths shut. If someone in the government who had knowledge of it spilled the beans, that’s not the fault of journalists. The Obama administration, like every other administration, needs to get its own house in order. You don’t stop leaks by trampling the First Amendment.

Instead, we get this (from NYT):

The A.P. said that the Justice Department informed it on Friday that law enforcement officials had obtained the records for more than 20 telephone lines of its offices and journalists, including their home phones and cellphones. It said the records were seized without notice sometime this year. The organization was not told the reason for the seizure.

The First Amendment exists to safeguard the right of the American people to be informed. The only known means to provide the kind of information we need to govern ourselves comes from a free and independent press, which is protected in its new-gathering every bit as much as it is protected in its news-telling. If the executive branch investigates the news media every time its own employees leak information, that cannot help but have a “chilling effect” on the news business.

This is ancient truth, going back at least as far as the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. If Obama does not want to go down in history in the same chapter with Richard Nixon, he has got to cut this stuff out. He could start by firing Attorney General Eric Holder.

Memo to the AP: The government got all those phone records from your telephone company. I would suggest you cancel your account and try a different carrier. 

Hat-tip: to NYT’s Charlie Savage, who seems to have staked out a new beat: reporting on the constitutional infringements and other abuses of power committed by the Obama administration.

Obligatory quote: Here’s Thomas Jefferson on the dangers of executive power:

"Aware of the tendency of power to degenerate into abuse, the
worthies of our country have secured its independence by the15715v
establishment of a Constitution and form of government for our
nation, calculated to prevent as well as to correct abuse." 
--Thomas Jefferson to Washington Tammany Society, 1809.

Clarification: Of course, what the administration objects to are unauthorized leaks. The leaks they plan and execute for their own purposes are, naturally, quite alright.

 

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Filed under First Amendment, Journalism, leaks, Obama, Uncategorized

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