It has been a surprise and revelation how much love the media has suddenly acquired, especially from the reactionaries. Up until now the only comments that come to mind from them have related to how they carry the water for Obama (Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and countless other liberals), that they don’t report real news, that unlike Fox, which is “fair and balanced”, the liberal media outlets have any number of agendas, and on and on and on.
It wasn’t that long ago that the New York Times was reviled for publishing stories that some considered breaches of national security. Does the name Julian Assange, the self-proclaimed journalist come to mind and the classified information that was reported by the NYT and other media outlets? The usual cries of treason were shouted out, some demanding criminal prosecutions of reporters and publishers. The outrage is usually very selective, though. Consider too the leaks surrounding the disclosure of Valerie Plame identifying her as a CIA officer. Since she was married to Joe Wilson, an enemy of the Bush administration, there was no outcry demanding that the leak be found and prosecuted Judith Miller of the NYT went to jail for contempt when she refused to reveal her source that identified Plame as a CIA officer. I don’t remember that the new defender of the press, Rush Limbaugh, ever offered to bail Miller out of jail. What I do recall is how he minimized any potential harm to the sources she cultivated in dangerous places.
What is amazing is the lack of understanding of what freedom of the press means. It illustrates another example of how the words of the Constitution most often do not reveal the intent of the Founding Fathers to cover every situation. What does the First Amendment mean when it says that congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press? Nowhere does the First Amendment mention the “public’s right to know.” Is that not just an interpretation, something implied? Is a reporter exempt from prosecution for conspiring with a government official to reveal classified information because of the public’s interest in a given story? Who gets to decide what is in the public’s interest? Why would a reporter be given immunity but not any other American who has an interest in learning government secrets? With today’s internet should not every American be able to claim some journalistic license? Since when is it not a crime to conspire with someone else to commit a crime, in this instance a reporter conspiring with a government source to provide classified information to an unauthorized person?
The Constitution certainly doesn’t provide for such immunity, but to listen to the new defenders of the First Amendment you would think that they either have it or should have it. I personally support a shield law that would protect the media from disclosing its sources except in specifically defined situations. But that is not the law, and the congress has repeatedly voted down any shield law legislation. Some have argued that the Justice Department violated its own rules by not first giving the AP an opportunity to review the subpoena. But there is no law that requires such notice, and the Supreme Court ruled in a 1970s case involving the IRS that an individual has no legal claim against a government agency violating its own in-house rules. In that case an IRS agent failed to provide Miranda warnings under IRS guidelines that were not required by law because there was no custodial situation. The taxpayer made statements that were used against him, and after conviction he tried to fall back on the IRS guidelines to no avail.
We are a nation of laws, and I believe not only in the rule of law, but that if we selectively apply laws because we don’t like one or another of them, we are heading towards anarchy. I have my own favorite laws that I think are outrageous and absurd, but as long as they were duly passed and not overturned by a court, I readily submit to them. Working for change is how to oppose bad legislation. I hate the tax code, and aside from the IRS penalties for failure to conform, these detestable laws and regulations happen to be lawfully in place. For that reason I pay what the government says I owe. The exaggerated fears that the Obama administration is going for you or your neighbor next is grossly overstated. The system is working as it should with congressional hearings (despite all the posturing for the cameras) that may result in needed legislation.