Judging by the caterwauling of many in the national media, you’d think Orwell’s Big Brother had taken over the White House. The Justice Department’s issuance of subpoenas to press organizations to find out who in the government had leaked classified information to the Associated Press and to Fox News reporter James Rosen has First Amendment purists in an uproar.
The way some of them carry on, you’d think the light of freedom had been extinguished. Writing in London’s The Guardian, indefatigable civil libertarian Glenn Greewald opines that “it is virtually impossible at this point to overstate the threat posed by the Obama DOJ to press freedoms.”
Media Matters’ normally unflappable Eric Boehlert sounds similarly overwrought: “Whether it was the Department of Justice’s wild overreach in seizing phone records of more than 20 separate telephone lines used by Associated Press editors and reporters, or the Department’s more focused, yet even more troubling, information grab of a Fox News reporter, the practice is wrong and shortsighted. It’s also un-American.”
Un-American, mind you.
Almost needless to say, Republicans sensing an Obama weakness are going along for the ride—even many who thought Bush attorney general Alberto Gonzales’ threat to prosecute New York Times reporters for revealing the existence of a massive NSA eavesdropping operation was a terrific idea.
Over on Fox News, they’re accusing Attorney General Eric Holder of perjury because he told Congress the DOJ wouldn’t prosecute journalists for publishing information, but did sign off on a subpoena arguing that Rosen might have violated the Espionage Act.
Earth to Fox News: as anybody who’s read two John Le Carre novels understands, journalists (or people posing as journalists) have worked as spies and agents provocateur since the invention of newspapers. A press ID isn’t a universal “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Besides, Rosen’s not being prosecuted. The DOJ is using his emails urging a State Department source to “expose muddle-headed foreign policy” by turning over classified intelligence about North Korea’s Stalinist dictatorship to prosecute the alleged leaker.
His friends say Rosen’s a wonderful family man. That’s a good thing, because judging by his journalistic tradecraft, he’d be apt to copy his wife and her mother on an email to his mistress.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The way many in the press are hyperventilating, most would apparently have had no problem with a 1944 headline reading: “Allies Plan June 6 Normandy Landing, Sources Say.”
My point’s that unless you think the United States has no dangerous enemies and therefore no legitimate national security secrets whatsoever, the content of both disputed stories should trouble you. Nor are the Justice Department’s reasons for prosecuting them obscure or malign.