How to stop journalists: Say they might be criminals

If you’re the guv’mint, and you want a journalist’s notes, emails, phone records, and such, and you don’t want to get a subpoena ’cause the journalist would be notified, no problemo.

Just cite Espionage Act. (All the while ignoring the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 that affords protections for journalists’ work products during criminal investigations.) Just tell a judge that the journalist is possibly a criminal. Tell the judge you think the journalist is a crook.

That’s how the U.S. Department of Justice nabbed the emails of James Rosen, a Washington correspondent for Fox News, following his reporting on North Korea based in part, it appears, on leaks. Writes Rob Tricchinelli of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The affidavits said that Rosen potentially committed a crime. By labeling him a “co-conspirator,” the Justice Department was able to fit into an exception to the PPA and proceed without getting a subpoena for the materials, which would have likely required giving notice to Rosen. … Media groups have spoken out against the DOJ’s investigation into Rosen, saying that the investigation improperly implies criminal activity taking place within ordinary news gathering.

Tricchinelli reports that the guv’mint never intended to charge Rosen.

And, as has become chillingly clear, the Obama administration hates leaks. Writes former Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell in The Nation.:

[T]he mainstream media is finally flashing a Red Alert concerning the Obama administration’s snit-leaks campaign. They used to refer to it as simply a “war on whistleblowers.” Now, after the Associated Press and Rosen/Fox News probes, they see it as a “war on the press”—with consequences already quite apparent.

In the Rosen case, the Espionage Act circumvention amounted to criminalizing a professional, responsible action that underscores the value of journalists in a democracy: holding government accountable.

If the citizenry doesn’t mind the guv’mint attacking whistleblowers through criminalizing professional reporting, then it should collectively hold its nose.

And, if the guv’mint’s actions in the Rosen case become de rigueur, then the citizenry should not expect news stories on issues such as these:

Tuskegee Syphilis Study
the Pentagon Papers release.
• the Watergate excesses of Richard Nixon
cost overruns.
• no-bid, no-competition contracts for Iraq reconstruction.
• pre-9/11 errors by the FBI.
• an unsafe practice at a Kansas nuclear power station.
defective “bulletproof” vests for police officers.
fraudulent billing practices for government aircraft

Ask a journalist. Any journalist. “You deal with whistleblowers?”

Yes. They all do. Those “tip lines” (either phone or email) at the local paper or TV station? They result in “tips” from whistleblowers. But they’re generally called “tipsters.” If the Rosen case stands as SOP for the guv’mint, then journalists receiving those tips — a common professional reporting technique — may face accusations of criminal technique.

That would end penetrating, professional investigative reporting that holds government — at all levels — accountable for its actions.

That what you want, taxpayers?

3 replies »

  1. The Justice Dept. is playing a dangerous game. I’m imagining a small, quiet, private get-together for dinner and drinks. In attendance are key players from the Washington Post, the NY Times, USA Today, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, AP and Reuters. Just some friends and colleagues socializing, swapping war stories, and informally agreeing to let slip the dogs of war on the Obama administration. No more playing along and collaborating like good corporate Germans. Nope. For the next couple of months we’re all going to start acting like Woodward and Bernstein. Well, not exactly like that – they were only interested in the truth. We’re going to be interested in a certain kind of truth. The kind that keeps the president up at night.

    Declaring war on the press is tricky. Because if they declare war back, you’re going to be up to your ass in alligators by sundown….