DOJ’s Dragnet on Leakers: The Apathy is Troubling, Especially Among Journalists

The revelation that the Department of Justice targeted Associated Press reporters highlights features of contemporary American life

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JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

Attorney General Eric Holder attends a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on May 14, 2013.

The revelation that the Department of Justice has obtained the private phone records of dozens of Associated Press reporters highlights four features of contemporary life in America.

First, the Obama administration, broadly speaking, (the White House is denying that President Obama himself knew anything about the DOJ dragnet) seems to be developing something of an obsession with pursuing leakers of confidential government information. Note that, unlike some prominent prior investigations, the AP matter doesn’t even involve government whistleblowers, but merely information about a successful operation to stop a terrorist attack — information that the AP, at the government’s request, did not publish immediately.

(MORE: Joe Klein: Crossing a Line in the A.P. Leaks Probe)

Although at this point claims that the administration’s behavior has been “Nixonian” remain absurd (for one thing, unlike Nixon’s DOJ, Obama’s Justice Department seems concerned about actually staying within the letter of the law), the White House’s policy of dedicating so many resources to uncovering even seemingly innocuous leakers is worrisome.

Second, it’s not even theoretically possible to surpass the degree of Republican hypocrisy on this issue. Recall that many of those howling about the Obama administration’s (probably legal) investigation are the very same people who did nothing but cheer when the Bush administration, in the name of “national security,” pursued a program of warrantless wiretapping that trampled on federal law.

First prize for sheer chutzpah regarding this matter goes to House committee chair Darrell Issa, who immediately issued a press release condemning the DOJ investigation, and calling for a congressional investigation, even though in 2007 Issa was one of just a handful of House members who voted against a bill that would have made investigations of this type illegal (the bill was successfully killed in the Senate by Issa’s  GOP colleagues). Although we won’t know for certain until more facts are revealed, it’s quite likely that the DOJ is correct when it asserts that rummaging through two months of office, home, and cellphone records of reporters on a fishing expedition for information regarding the confidential source of a story is something that the law as currently written allows the government to do.

(MORE: Homeland Insecurity: After Boston, the Struggle Between Liberty and Security)

Over the course of the last dozen years (that is, ever since the commencement of the latest in our never-ending series of wars) Congress and the courts have given the executive branch nearly unlimited power to protect Americans from the dangers of a truly free press, and in particular the “danger” of the media having access to un-intimidated confidential sources inside the government, who can reveal what our leaders are up to without fear of having their identities revealed to those leaders.

Finally, the reaction of some journalists to this story has been deeply depressing.  For example, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer attempted a bit of fair and balanced musing:

[I]f there was a serious leak about an al-Qaeda operation or whatever, they’re trying to find out who may be leaking this information to the news media, do they occasionally have the right to secretly monitor our phone calls?

If a member of the U.S. press is asking this question, we should all be worried. As journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian asks:

Can you imagine what it’s like to be an Obama official and—in the wake of these revelations—sit back and watch one of the nation’s most celebrated journalists instantly suggest that the perhaps the US government should be monitoring his phone calls with his sources?

10 comments
ruthiejames95
ruthiejames95

I wonder also if he will be able to keep this up. I get so tired of all of the corruption we have in our politicians. Hopefully someone will be able to break the cycle!

Ruth James |  http://www.hartlawofficespc.net

lazarus00000
lazarus00000

Holder investigating Holder, I wonder if he will be objective? This is all too bizaar to imagine and definitely a new chapter in American corruption in the highest office.

Lazarus

justplncate
justplncate

As a moderate I don't have a dog in the ongoing liberal/conservative slanderfest. (well actually hoping to see a continuing state of balance does prevent either side gaining the time and energy to make our lives [moderates] more miserable then they already do. So I guess we may have a chihuahua in there somewhere.)

But it seems to me the press is in a ticklish predicament.   They can remain noncommital and protect their "he can do no wrong" embrace of Obama untainted.  Or, admit that the administration excesses they constantly poo-poo'd ere in some cases real.  Which would reflect poorly on their credibility.   Either way they incur a metaphorical black-eye.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

The media have fawned over this guy since his 2004 appearance at the Democratic convention, and given him a pass at every turn.  To admit now that maybe he is anything other than perfect would be to admit errors in personal judgment.  Not going to happen, as Blitzer makes clear.  He would rather have his phone traffic monitored than suggest Obama (or his administration) made a mistake.

Sherm
Sherm

I was drawn in by the headline, but Campos seems to doing the opposite:  providing an ongoing media shield for the administration and blaming the GOP for the "sideshow."  I guess Time will be the last to see the light. 

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

Secret subpoenas and searches are Kafkaesque....   How does one protect themselves from an unlawful search if the search is done without your knowledge? 

lazarus00000
lazarus00000

I too am a moderate but I am also a historian who sees the danger of the actions that are manifested in the Wonderlust of Washington City.

The real truth is that I feel we are just about two steps away from a totalitarian regime and history supports my theory. Presidents in the past has suspended the constitution in part or parcel in times of national threats. All he is waiting for is a rerason to decalre Martial law and the baloon will go up.

Just a thought.

Lazarus