It's been over a week now since the AP announced that the Justice Department had issued a sweeping subpoena of the home, work, and cell phone records of Associated Press staff related to leaks in a case involving the CIA's disruption of a terrorist plot in Yemen. In a related story, the DoJ is investigating Fox News reporter James Rosen as a co-conspirator in a criminal leak case for soliciting classified information on North Korea from Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department advisor.
The effect on journalists has been chilling. Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation noted:
The chilling effect may end up being the lasting effect of this scandal: while the subpoenas are certainly an assault on press freedom, it's the American public is who ends up losing the most in these investigations. Virtually the entire national security apparatus is classified, and often the only way the American people find out what their government is doing behind this veil of secrecy is through leaks to the press.McClatchy Newpapers' Jonathan Landay, who reported "on US drone strikes based on five years of Top Secret classified intelligence reports", told Huffington Post:
“Do I think that they could come after me?” Landay asked, in an interview with The Huffington Post. “Yes.”These actions by the administration must be placed in context. In a glaring contrast to President Obama's famous commitment to transparency in government, his administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. Now, they're going after jounalists.
“I can tell you that people who normally would meet with me, sort of in a more relaxed atmosphere, are on pins and needles,” Landay said of the reporting climate during the Obama years, a period of unprecedented whistleblower prosecutions. The crackdown on leaks, he added, seems “deliberately intended to have a chilling effect.”
From unprecedented levels of legal harassment of whistleblowers to the seizure of reporters' phone records to the unprecedented investigation of a journalist as a criminal co-conspirator in a case involving national security, it's clear we have reached a high-water-mark of the National Security State. Not merely a quantitative change in the intensity of government scrutiny, but a qualitative change as well; it's not just the leakers and whistleblowers in the crosshairs, it's the journalists themselves now. As in the Bradley Manning/Wikileaks case, the purpose is not just to punish those who disclose unbecoming information, but to deter First Amendment-protected journalists from telling the people of this country the truth about what is being done in their name.
How can we ignore what is staring us in our faces? How plain does it have to be before we acknowledge that the United States government is using the National Security Apparatus to suppress journalism. Using the National Security Apparatus to suppress journalism is what police states do. It is not acceptable in a democracy because without a free press, democracy is impossible.
What, then, must we do?
Foremost, as free people we have a universal obligation to speak truth to power and to speak truth about power. If we have any hope of preserving what's left of our ever weaker democracy, we have the obligation to speak, write, and act to keep that power within the limits of democracy, or watch it die before our eyes. If we wait until repression is so pervasive that even the last of the party loyalists is willing to see it and name it, we will lose.
Bloggers are journalists, whether great or small, and we are united in the purpose of telling the truth as we see it regardless of what power demands. The repression of mainstream journalists, regardless of their outlet or political bent, is a threat to us all. In that spirit, I call on all bloggers here and elsewhere, but most especially on Marcos and the staff of the Daily Kos Front Page, to denounce together unequivocally these repressive acts by the Obama administration, and in turn to call on everyone in the blogosphere to join them.
This is not an accusation. I am most explicitly not saying that the current absence of that clear, bright line in defense of the Press means that Daily Kos is abetting the administration. My belief is that, as journalists themselves, they are acutely aware of the issues involved and alarmed by them.
I am saying the time has come to draw that line. These repressive steps by the government are not a story to be reported, not an occasion for opinion journalism, not a subject for electronic parlor discussion. They are a clear and immediate danger to our democracy.
Categorically, explicitly, and in solidarity with journalists everywhere in America, I ask the leaders--and readers--of Daily Kos to state that the use of the national security apparatus against journalists is an act of repression, the act of a police state, and that it must end. I state this with the hope that it will be the beginning of a broad national exposure of the government's repression, one early enough to warn the people and inspire them to act in defense of their constitutional rights.
I believe the news of these last weeks places us at a cusp of history. We live in a nation more monitored and recorded than ever. Our conversations, emails, purchases, and travels are government property. Now, our leaders have taken explicit steps to silence the journalists whom we depend on for a functioning democracy, simply because the mandarins of the National Security State have determined we have no right to know.
This cannot go on unchallenged if we are to keep what's left of our democracy.
Kos and all the Front Page staff, I ask you: name this repression and denounce it now.