The War on Leakers

Brothers in SpiritLuckily for Barack Obama, news of improper shenanigans at the IRS stole attention from the week’s biggest story: that the President’s Justice Department had secretly seized call information from at least 20 phone lines belonging to Associated Press reporters, including personal cell phones and the main switchboard of the AP’s Washington bureau. While Obama thundered on about “inexcusable behavior” at the IRS, he said he would “make no apology” for his latest foray into Nixonian dirty tricks.

Most people are more concerned with money and power than privacy and freedom. Therefore the word “impeachment” was never uttered, not even by the most impolite members of the press.

America’s sense of outrage at the IRS fiasco is misplaced. The real scandal at the IRS is that they allow hundreds – thousands? – of 501 (c)4 non-profit organizations to receive tax-exempt status as “educational” organizations. What these groups really do is help politicians bypass election spending laws. As another mechanism for political bribery, they’re great; as society-improvers, not so much. Targeting applications that contained words like “tea party” is exactly the kind of “profiling” that should happen more often – and toward the liberal side, too. They also abuse the tax laws. They also should be “unfairly” targeted.

The press? The people’s representative in the halls of power? They need to be left alone.

On the contrary, the Obama Administration has been conducting a War on Leakers with the kind of executive aggressiveness not seen in Washington since, well, Richard Nixon. It started with Bradley Manning, the heroicSee something say something -- not! Wikileaker. They threw him in solitary confinement and threatened him with life in prison. In an attempt to uncover a confidential source, they seized the personal call and banking records of New York Times reporter James Risen. And five other similar cases have been launched, more than any previous administration. Including Tricky Dicky.

AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll emphasized the breadth of the Justice Department’s actions. “I’ve been in this business for more than thirty years,” she said. “Our First Amendment lawyers, and our lawyers inside the AP, and our CEO, who’s also a well-known First Amendment lawyer, none of us have ever seen anything like this.”

Carl Bernstein, who broke the Nixon Watergate cover-up: “The object of it is to intimidate people who talk to reporters … there’s no excuse for it whatsoever.” He added that it was “nonsense” to say that the White House would have been unaware of such a probe. “This is a policy matter, and this does go to the president,” he said. “There is no reason that a presidency that is interested in a truly free press and its functioning should permit this to happen.”

The rationale, as always since 9/11, is security. Protecting Americans. Keeping us safe.

Jake Tapper, CNN: “That’s what every president says. Every president, whether it’s Nixon with the Pentagon Papers or George W. Bush with the NSA wiretapping story, every president asserts, ‘I’m doing this to keep you safe.’ A lot of people in the public, they say that’s enough, and they believe it, but the truth of the matter is that it’s not enough of an answer in and of itself. That’s why there is Congressional oversight of the executive branch. It’s not enough just to say we’re doing it to keep you safe, because the moment the American people cede that territory, then presidents can do whatever they want.”

Tough guys don't abide leaksTapper, again: “This administration has used the Espionage Act more times to go after whistleblowers … more than every other administration combined. So this is a very aggressive administration when it comes to squashing freedom of the press.”

Limiting the untrustworthy Eric Holder – who says one thing about medical marijuana and does another, namely kicking down the doors of law-abiding dispensaries – and his renegade Justice Department will serve a long-term benefit to the American people. We need aggressive reporting. We need to know what’s going on. The more we know, the safer we are.

The Obama administration’s mean-spirited retaliatory leak investigations do nothing to further the cause of free public discussion and debate. They intimidate our press. And an intimidated press makes all of us a little less safe.


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2 Responses

  1. Yet on a variety of policy fronts, pressing financial and other needs are forcing Republicans to concede more publicly than usual that minimalist government isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution.

  2. Rocky Terry says:

    Werfel is scheduled to make his first congressional appearance as acting commissioner Monday when he appears before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.