Obama and Secrets

By Chris Daly 

As is becoming obvious, the Obama administration is developing a disappointment on the promises made by candidate Obama to run an open government. Instead of transparency, we are getting business as usual — or, in some areas, worse than usual.

The New York Times’ David Carr has a helpful update today on the government’s use of the Espionage Act under Obama. More often than not, federal prosecutions are brought against leakers who divulge secrets to the press. Rarely do we see prosecutions of real spies, the kind who steal or buy classified information on behalf of some hostile foreign government that then uses that information to defeat us militarily. Now, that kind of thing would justify the existence and the use of the Espionage Act. But no. The law is usually used to punish the people who are journalists’ sources. Rather than go after the reporters directly, the government (usually) settles for punishing the leaker, who is usually a government employee.


The Espionage Act, as I detail in my new book (which should in bookstores on Friday), Covering America, was passed in 1917 by a Congress that was unsure whether the American people would support a war that the president himself had said was unnecessary until right before the U.S. plunged into the fighting in Europe. Among those prosecuted under the Espionage Act (or its companion law, the Sedition Act of 1918) was the socialist leader Eugene Debs, who was imprisoned for giving a speech.

Carr’s piece, as I mentioned, is valuable, but it raises one beef I have with the Times’ coverage in general – that is, the paper’s use of links. In today’s piece, there are plenty of links, but they are almost all internal; they link to earlier Times stories or to the Times Topics database. There is nothing wrong with those, but the paper consistently misses chances to link to historical materials. There is no reason  the Times couldn’t link to the text of the Espionage Act, for instance. Actually, there may be a reason: these links are not always easy to find. But they would give the Times‘ reporting a lot more authority.










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Filed under First Amendment, history, Journalism, journalism history, leaks, New York Times, President Obama

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