by J. D. Heyes
There is a time when national security literally depends on secrecy. Regardless of the prevailing mindset among many in the press and in the general public, the American people do not have an inherent “right” to know everything about everything the government is doing when it is legitimately operating on behalf of securing the nation and protecting the homeland, because such functions necessarily require secrecy. Imagine, for example, if someone “in the know” had leaked plans and details of the D-Day invasion to a newspaper; what would the implications of that have been?
But by far, most of the time news organizations have a legitimate role to play in bringing details of government operations to the public at large, for the media’s primary purpose in our country, as envisioned by our founding fathers, is to serve as a watchdog on government. And that’s what makes the Department of Justice’s decision to tap 20 phones belonging to Associated Press reporters so chilling: the audacity of government heavy-handedness and the ruthlessness with which this administration deals with its enemies, real or perceived.
As bad as it is to know DoJ targeted the AP, the administration’s pattern of constitutionally questionable behavior regarding the press is much worse than thought, because it apparently involves more than just that one news outlet. Per The Washington Post:
The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.
According to details surrounding the Justice Department’s probe of Kim and Rosen, the former – a higher-ranking State Department official at the time – stands accused of passing to the later classified information regarding North Korea.
More from the Post: Court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist – and raise the question of how often journalists have been investigated as closely as Rosen was in 2010. The case also raises new concerns among critics of government secrecy about the possible stifling effect of these investigations on a critical element of press freedom: the exchange of information between reporters and their sources.
While there is a difference between reporters reporting government waste, fraud, abuse and corruption, there is clearly a difference between cultivating classified sources and then reporting information they provide. If you have to hide, that generally means you’re divulging information you shouldn’t be. An exception here would be if you are a whistleblower and you are exposing government abuse.
That doesn’t appear to be the case with the reporter from Fox News – at least on the surface – but it’s hard to tell at this point given the Obama administration’s unprecedented pursuit of cases it believes involved the leak of classified information (more than any other administration combined) – even if it wasn’t classified (just uncomfortable for the president). That fact alone makes it appear as though Obama – Mr. Constitutional Professor who pledged openness and transparency – likes to use the power of government to silence critics or punish those he believes have gone against him.
Either way, what his administration is doing is damaging the Bill of Rights.
“Search warrants like these have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public. That’s a very dangerous road to go down,” says First Amendment attorney Charles Tobin, in an interview with the Post.
Adds attorney Abbe Lowell, who is defending Kim: “The latest events show an expansion of this law enforcement technique. Individual reporters or small time periods have turned into 20 [telephone] lines and months of records with no obvious attempt to be targeted or narrow.”
The feds obviously see it a different way, but is it the correct way?
“FBI agent Reginald Reyes wrote in an affidavit that Rosen had broken the law ‘at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.’ But that statement may well conflict with First Amendment rights,” reported Breitbart News.
Says AP CEO Gary Pruitt of the targeting of his reporters by DoJ: “I really don’t know what their motive was, I know what the message they are sending was – if you talk to the press we are going to go after you.”