Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Defending Freedom of the Press

Gary Pruitt, the CEO of the Associated Press, ended his silence on the seizure of AP reporters' records by the Department of Justice Sunday.

It was about time. I was wondering if anyone at AP would step up to the plate and take a stand for freedom of the press. (While I was waiting, I was wondering if my faith in the Associated Press that was encouraged by everyone from my college journalism professors to my editors on the job had been misplaced.)

During an interview on CBS' Face the Nation, Pruitt said the move was "unconstitutional."

He'll get no argument from me on that.

And that comes from the CEO of a news organization that is perceived as friendly to the Obama administration — for which the Department of Justice works and from which the DoJ takes its marching orders. Can you imagine, I have asked people, the kind of treatment news organizations that are not perceived as friendly to the Obama administration can expect?

Actually, we don't have to wait for an answer to that question. Even before Pruitt made his remarks on Face the Nation, the Washington Post was reporting on Justice's surveillance of Fox News' James Rosen during a 2010 probe of suspected State Department leaks on North Korea.

It is no surprise to me that Garance Franke–Ruta wonders, in The Atlantic: Who else has been put under Justice's microscope?

That doesn't seem to me to be the question here. AP and Fox News occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum, wouldn't you say? Consequently, doesn't it stand to reason that, if both have been subjected to this kind of scrutiny, anyone and everyone else could have been — or could still be — probed as well?

My question is more basic than that: Does freedom of the press still exist in this country?

When I was growing up, I felt confident in the answer to that question. It was such a preposterous question, though, that I never seriously pondered it. I took it for granted that America would always have a free press — even in the Nixon years, when the existence of an enemies' list became public knowledge, and the list included prominent names in the media.

But now, I'm not so sure. Intimidation of whistle blowers can have a chilling effect on sources, and the clear willingness of the administration to use Justice and the IRS as political weapons has the potential to make freedom of the press a thing of the past.

Without freedom of the press, there can be no freedom.

That is why it is so important for people like Pruitt to hold the administration accountable such abuses of power.

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