Why is the Obama Justice Department Spying on Journalists?

Attorney General Eric Holder

[Speaking Truth To Power]

This week it has been revealed the Justice Department engaged in the surreptitious monitoring of the phone communications of Associated Press (AP) reporters—including obtaining private cellphone numbers —in an apparent attempt to ascertain information on whistleblowers revealing secrets embarrassing to Washington.

Is this blatant violation of the press’s First Amendment right just meant to curtail whistleblowers—or, is it also another assault at undermining the process between the press and public in shedding light on the transgressions of politicians?

According to the AP, last Friday the Justice Department informed them that federal investigators had covertly compiled a list of outgoing calls, phone records and numbers of some 100 AP reporters and editors for a two month period from April through May of 2012. The Justice Department and law enforcement personnel acquired records from over 20 phone lines in AP offices and from personal home and cellphones of reporters and editors.

Many believe the reason for this action is linked to the alleged May 2012 plot, by Yemeni terrorists to bomb an American airplane. Reportedly, on May 7, 2012, the AP ran breaking news on the thwarted terrorist attempt—after, having withheld the story at the White House’s request because intelligence operations were said to be evolving.

The Justice Department’s clandestine confiscation of AP’s phone recordings has unleashed consternation on the part of several reporters and media personnel, including AP’s president Gary Pruitt who wrote a scathing letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. In the May 13 letter, Mr. Pruitt stated, in part, “I am writing to object in the strongest possible terms to the massive and unprecedented intrusion by the Department of Justice into the newsgathering activities of The Associated Press…”

The letter also said, “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communication with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.

That the Department undertook this unprecedented step without providing any notice to the AP, and without taking any steps to narrow the scope of its subpoenas to matters actually relevant to an ongoing investigation, is particularly troubling…” And the letter noted, “We regard this action the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”

This revelation is indeed troubling in many respects to the function of the proper providing of news to the public by the press. For one thing, this White House has aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers who it claims expose the country to jeopardy by revealing state secrets.

According to The White House, those who work in the government—especially, in intelligence circles—should regard confidential communications and records as sacrosanct. Yet, this same government didn’t seem to think twice before engaging in the violation of AP’s First Amendment rights.

Currently, Pfc. Bradley Manning has been tried in a military court because of the “Afghan War Diaries” and “Collateral Damage” documents and video he was charged with providing to Wikileaks. Besides the crucifixion of Mr. Manning, the White House and Washington has, apparently, targeted Julian Assange—who is still holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in England—for possible extradition and prosecution, under the Espionage Act of 1917, for publishing the documents, reportedly, furnished by Mr. Manning.

Washington has argued Wikileaks’ engaged in criminal collection of government documents. However, what does the government call their seizure of AP reporters’ phone records—in contravention of the Fourth Amendment rights of these reporters?

Government officials quite often advance the argument that leaks risk lives—which in some cases is true. But the fact is what politicians are usually afraid of is that some leak will reveal embarrassing information sometimes of a criminal nature—like, the number of innocent lives being lost by the misguided warmongering foreign policy of Washington. These cries against whistleblowers and leakers are, often, just an excuse used to hide the bloody handiwork of Capitol Hill and the White House from the American public.

What better way to cover-up and insulate themselves from their war crimes committed abroad? Moreover, Washington actively engages in leaking information to the press whenever it suits their particular political objectives. Why weren’t those who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame-Wilson’s name aggressively prosecuted?

Mainstream media organizations like the AP and The New York Times have rightly lashed out against this invasive action taken by the government. Unfortunately, these same responsible reporters and paragons of the press are partly responsible for the current state of affairs.

For example, as attacks against Wikileaks intensified these corporate news companies remained shockingly silent and apparently didn’t see the need to defend Wikileaks—even when they were busy publishing and broadcasting information provided by Wikileaks.

The American media didn’t seem to realize the critical importance of supporting Wikileaks and Julian Assange—on First Amendment grounds as a media organization—from a government constantly seeking to hide everything from their citizens in a democratic society. Don’t they remember one of the primary principles of the press should be to challenge the abuses of the powerful and expose any vile misbehavior? Wikileaks’ exposing of the fables and frauds being perpetrated by Washington should have been enough to convince press personalities to stand with Wikileaks. But they didn’t. Why?

These days, many in mainstream media are absorbed with their careers as celebrity reporters to the point where they have no connection with doing journalism that will elevate the insight of the American public.

They have become coopted and corrupted by the glitz and sparkle of being press reporters at the seats of powerful politicians and have forgotten the actions and motives of Washington should always be questioned with suspicion by members of the so-called Fourth Estate. Unfortunately, “objective journalism” is used every day by these journalists often to cover-up cold hard facts that show these politicians in a negative light.

One has to wonder this: if the government is compiling and eavesdropping on well-behaved establishment press personalities, then, what are they doing in regard to those rabblerousing muckrakers—especially, in the independent and radical press—who  are busy trying to ferret-out those dastardly deeds government is always trying to hide?

After all, one cannot accuse establishment journalists of truly challenging Washington and Wall Street. These are the same folks who failed to tell Americans that the 2000 Presidential Election was stolen—investigative journalist Greg Palast had to go to Europe to get that story published. Then establishment journalists like Judith Miller of The New York Times parroted the lies coming from the Bush White House signing off on the disastrous decade of war the effects of which are still with us. And although mainstream journalists can always seem to dig up dirt on all the crimes of minorities, why can’t they do they do the same with those Wall Street crooks?

Every journalist should be offended by this overreaching action of the Justice Department. This should be a wakeup call for those in media. It’s time the press remembers the adversarial nature of journalism when journalists are trying to keep government officials in check in a democracy.


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