NYT, WaPo, USA Today editorial boards blast Obama over seizure of AP phone records
posted at 10:41 am on May 15, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
Politico reported earlier today that Washington DC has begun to turn against Barack Obama and his administration. Thanks to Obama’s own arrogance, write Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, he has little good will inside the Beltway anyway, and that leaves him with few passionate defenders in the latest scandal cascade:
The town is turning on President Obama — and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up. ….
Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
Many will treat that last claim with considerable skepticism. The press has had plenty of opportunities to demand accountability from the White House, but have mostly acted as its apologists instead. Benghazi is one case in point, long before there were any whistleblowers to report, too. The terrorist attack took place because Obama’s intervention in Libya and decapitation of the Moammar Qaddafi regime set the terrorist networks in eastern Libya free. Both the attack on our consulate and the larger problem of al-Qaeda’s attempt at its own coup in Mali — which took French military intervention to narrowly prevent — resulted directly from the decision by Obama to take out the Qaddafi regime without putting boots on the ground.
Not only has the media largely ignored that chain of consequences in the Benghazi story, they’re ignoring it in the context of Syria and proposed Western intervention there, too. That’s not even a “scandal” issue, but a critical sequence that needs to be properly aired and analyzed before we end up doing the same thing in Syria that we did in Libya — and the only obstacle to connecting those dots seems to be the desire of the media to preserve Obama’s Libya intervention as some sort of foreign-policy triumph.
But perhaps things are changing, if only in a self-interested way. The New York Times editorial board, which earlier kinda-sorta cheered the IRS’ focus on conservative groups, gets its dudgeon to medium-high on the seizure of AP phone records:
The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers. …
For more than 30 years, the news media and the government have used a well-honed system to balance the government’s need to pursue criminals or national security breaches with the media’s constitutional right to inform the public. This action against The A.P., as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press outlined in a letter to Mr. Holder, “calls into question the very integrity” of the administration’s policy toward the press.
The records covered 20 phone lines, including main office phones in New York City, Washington, Hartford, and the Congressional press gallery. The guidelines for such subpoenas, first enacted in 1972, require that requests for media information be narrow. The reporters’ committee said this action is so broad that it allowed prosecutors to “plunder two months of news-gathering materials to seek information that might interest them.”
The Washington Post editorial board, which sharply criticized the White House over the IRS scandal, offers a we-told-you-so on the AP scandal:
WHEN THE Justice Department launched its investigation of alleged leaks of national security information by the Obama administration a year ago, we were skeptical. The history of such probes is mainly a tale of dead ends and unintended negative consequences. That this effort to criminalize a leak was launched amid an election-year uproar seemed especially inauspicious.
Our forebodings have been borne out with the revelation that federal prosecutors have undertaken a broad sweep of the Associated Press’s phone records. Whatever national-security enhancement this was intended to achieve seems likely to be outweighed by the damage to press freedom and governmental transparency.
USA Today’s editors call it “a torrent of abuse” and part of a pattern in this administration (via Gabriel Malor):
Another day, another excessive use of government power by the Obama administration.
First came disclosures Friday that the Internal Revenue Service had singled out conservative advocacy groups for extra scrutiny when the groups sought tax-exempt status. On Monday came news that the Justice Department, in a rare intrusion into the work of news reporters, had seized wide-ranging phone records from the Associated Press.
They seem to be the only ones connecting any dots here. Plus, they point out that this abuse of power all but disqualifies the DoJ to investigate the other abuse of power erupting this week:
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole argued Tuesday that prosecutors acted cautiously. But the sweeping seizure of data on 20 AP phones lines smacks more of a fishing expedition. Those records are now in government files and could be misused in the future. Prosecutors seized the data secretly rather than offer the AP a chance to negotiate what it would turn over, even though the records weren’t going anywhere. They treated the AP more like a hardened criminal than an upstanding news organization.
As for the IRS revelation, Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a criminal investigation to determine whether anyone at the agency broke the law. That’s a start. But the Justice Department’s decision-making in the AP case doesn’t inspire confidence in the result.
It would build a little more confidence in the media if these outlets would connect a few more of these dots.