No kidding! The New York Times belatedly wades into the Obama administration’s attack on James Rosen and Fox News as unindicted co-conspirator in an espionage case. To their credit, they don’t go very far in excusing the White House and Department of Justice, but they don’t go very far in condemning their actions, either — referring to it as “another chilling leak investigation”:
Michael Clemente, the executive vice president of Fox News, said on Monday that it was “downright chilling” that Mr. Rosen “was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter.” Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, added on Tuesday that treating “routine news-gathering efforts as evidence of criminality is extremely troubling and corrodes time-honored understandings between the public and the government about the role of the free press.”
The Rosen case follows other signs that the administration has gone overboard in its zeal to find and muzzle insiders. The Associated Press revealed last week that the government had secretly seized two months’ worth of records for telephones used by the agency’s staff, partly to determine the source of a leak about a report involving a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen. At least two other major leak investigations are continuing. Six current and former administration officials have been indicted under the old Espionage Act for leaking classified information to the press and public. In 2010, a federal judge in Marylandsentenced a leaker to 20 months in jail while admitting that he was “in the dark as to the kind of documents” involved in the leak or what impact they had on national security.
Obama administration officials often talk about the balance between protecting secrets and protecting the constitutional rights of a free press. Accusing a reporter of being a “co-conspirator,” on top of other zealous and secretive investigations, shows a heavy tilt toward secrecy and insufficient concern about a free press.
“Insufficient concern about a free press”? Hey, don’t go overboard in your outrage, Gray Lady. This reads like a checkbox-filling entry, mostly quoting the outrage of others while offering diffident criticism as an attempt to jump on the bandwagon … or perhaps just walk a few steps behind the bandwagon.
Perhaps they might want to read Dana Milbank’s column today, which puts the scandal in somewhat more outraged terms:
But here’s why you should care — and why this case, along with the administration’s broad snooping into Associated Press phone records, is more serious than the other supposed Obama administration scandals regarding Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service. The Rosen affair is as flagrant an assault on civil liberties as anything done by George W. Bush’s administration, and it uses technology to silence critics in a way Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of.
To treat a reporter as a criminal for doing his job — seeking out information the government doesn’t want made public — deprives Americans of the First Amendment freedom on which all other constitutional rights are based. Guns? Privacy? Due process? Equal protection? If you can’t speak out, you can’t defend those rights, either.
Beyond that, the administration’s actions shatter the president’s credibility and discourage allies who would otherwise defend the administration against bogus accusations such as those involving the Benghazi “talking points.” If the administration is spying on reporters and accusing them of criminality just for asking questions — well, who knows what else this crowd is capable of doing?
Golly, shouldn’t the New York Times editorial board be concerned over that? Apparently not.
Nick Gillespie has no trouble mustering outrage at the Daily Beast today, and not just at the administration. Nick says that the media helped to create this atmosphere by neglecting their duties to hold the Obama administration accountable in the past — a failure directly related to ideological bias at media outlets:
Because they tend to share his broad outlook on politics, too many journalists for too long have been in the tank for Obama, explaining away or minimizing his policy failures and reversals. Remember Obama’s heartfelt insistence that he would run the most transparent administration ever? Take a look at this document about warrantless searches of text messages that his administration finally coughed up to the ACLU and get back to me. It’s 15 pages of completely redacted prose. Such a document would be funny if it wasn’t coming from a secrecy-obsessed administration that has put the brakes on fulfilling FOIA requests and has charged a record number of people under The Espionage Act.
Then there’s Obama’s cherished belief in his inalienable right to skrag anyone he thinks was connected to the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda, or is otherwise a threat to the good old U.S. of A. Even George W. Bush never wandered into that constitutionally swampy territory – and he was worse than Hitler, Richard Nixon, and Larry the Cable Guy put together, right? Yet it took a 13-hour filibuster by the libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to get a simple – and still squirrely! – answer to whether the administration thinks it has the authority to dispatch death drones against citizens on U.S. soil.
And take a quick look at the differences between Sen. Obama and President Obama when it comes to war-making power, a split that’s starker than any found in the old Highlights for Children feature Goofus and Gallant. “The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” That was Sen. Obama, of course. President Obama not only unilaterally dispatched forces to Libya (hello, Benghazi!), he didn’t even bother to follow up 90 days later with a request for authorization, as specified under the War Powers Act. Thanks to his imperial attitude toward the press, journalists are finally taking notice that Obama’s rhetoric is strikingly at odds with his actions. In his recent press conferencewith Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan – a pioneer in treating journalists like criminals– Obama commented on the AP probe, stressing his belief in “a free press, free expression, and the open flow of information [that] helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable, and helps our democracy function.” …
By definition, any media shield law is predicated upon the government defining just who counts as a “journalist” and is thus worthy of protection – and who doesn’t count and is thus subject to prosecution. Thanks, President Obama, but we don’t need no stinking press badges, especially in an age where all sorts of decentralized reporting and unconventional news gathering come online faster than the next second-term scandal. The First Amendment is all the shield law any American needs, especially when it’s supplemented by the protections offered by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. What we really need is a president who lives by the Constitution more than he nods to it.
In my column for The Week, I also note that the media seems to be waking up to the threat posed by the Obama administration, if belatedly. And the White House response so far has been to throw gasoline on the fire:
These revelations could not have come at a worse time for the White House. With the interest in Benghazi peaking again — a Washington Post/ABC poll shows that 55 percent of Americans think the administration is covering up the truth — and the IRS scandal breaking into embarrassing serial revelations and Congressional hearings, Obama and his team need a sympathetic media more than ever. Press Secretary Jay Carney has had to handle a suddenly outraged press corps demanding answers and growing more persistent when not receiving any.
For instance, the White House has changed its story at least five times on who knew what and when on the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, and suddenly reporters are keeping score. Politico‘s Reid Epstein offered readers a timeline of Carney stories to prevent confusion. National Journal‘s Ron Fournier wrote that he “desperately want to believe [White House strategist Dan] Pfeiffer” when he issued denial after denial on Sunday talk shows on all of the scandals facing the Obama administration, but “the White House can’t be trusted.” At the Huffington Post, NBC analyst Howard Fineman scoffed at the idea that the White House knew nothing about the IRS’ activities. Given the talent in the West Wing, “it’s hard to imagine that the Obama inner circle was oblivious to the issue of what the IRS was doing in Cincinnati,” Fineman concluded.
With the goodwill in the briefing room dissipating quickly, one might predict that the White House would try to woo the professional journalists back. Instead, Carney went after CBS News reporter Major Garrett, arguing about what questions Carney considered legitimate. When Garrett asked whether he could ask about Kathleen Sebelius’ attempt to raise funds from companies her department regulates, Carney equated that with birtherism. Almost immediately afterward, NPR’s Ari Shapiro noticed that a group of “lefty columnists” were ushered into the West Wing, presumably for some briefing to which the White House Correspondents Association members won’t be privy.
That’s a long fall from grace for the White House in the short period of time since the mutual-admiration society of the WHCA’s gala dinner and celebrity red-carpet evening. The scandalous snooping on journalists attempting to keep government accountable through the exercise of the First Amendment may or may not be the most significant of the scandals that the Obama administration faces at the moment — but it’s the key scandal that will motivate the press to report more aggressively on all of the others. Circling the wagons with its ideological allies in the opinion media shows that the White House may have reached the same conclusion.
Heck, if they keep this up for another few weeks, the New York Times might even start to get annoyed.