Monday, May 22, 2006

Putting journalists in prison

From the AP

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security.

The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.

"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected.
The statutes Gonzalez refers to are from the Espionage Act that were put on the books in World War I along with the Sedition Act by Woodrow Wilson. These acts were designed to inhibit the first amendment right of Americans to speak critically of the president. It's no wonder this administration would look to such un-American legislation to help put Americans behind a one-way mirror.

Greenwald on the threat this poses to the freedom of the press, and consequently, to democracy.

It really is hard to imagine any measures which pose a greater and more direct danger to our freedoms than the issuance of threats like this by the administration against the press. If the President has the power to keep secret any information he wants simply by classifying it -- including information regarding illegal or otherwise improper actions he has taken -- then the President, by definition, has complete control over the flow of information which Americans receive about their Government.

An aggressive and adversarial press in our country was intended by the founders to be one of the most critical checks on abuses of presidential power, every bit as much as Congress and the courts were created as checks. Jefferson said: "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter." The only reason the Founders bothered to guarantee a free press in First Amendment is because the press was intended to serve as a check against Government power.

And the only reason, in turn, that the press is a check against the Government is because it searches for and then discloses information which the Government wants to keep secret. That is what investigative journalism, by definition, does. The Government always wants to conceal its wrongdoing from the public, and the principal safeguard in this country against that behavior is an adversarial press, which is devoted to uncovering such conduct and disclosing it to the country.
As Greenwald notes, virtually all the information we have of the conduct of this administrations has come from leaks that the press has reported. If the administration has its way, it will control the flow of information in this country, and we will not have a free press, we will have government propaganda. This is another means by which the administration assaults the fourth estate.

Update - In the comments at Glenn's site, I quoted from Cato's Letter #15, which I'm linking to here since I feel it (the letter) is worth reading.

"Guilt only dreads liberty of speech, which drags it out of its lurking holes, and exposes its deformity and horror to day-light."

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