Sen. Lindsey Graham is hopeful revelations that the government spied on Fox News reporter James Rosen will finally draw Republicans into the fight with the Obama administration over it’s targeting of journalists as part of the White House’s war against leaks, the South Carolina Republican told BuzzFeed Monday.Ironically, President Obama was a co-sponsor of the media shield law that Graham opposed. Despite the fact that his Justice Department has now snooped on both the AP and Fox, he still supports such a law, though in 2009, he opposed an effort to revive the bill that he'd cosponsored one year earlier. That puts him in a position of saying that there needs to be a media shield law to protect reporters from his administration, which seems sort of ridiculous—but also seems accurate.
The Department of Justice has targeted at least two news organizations — Fox and the Associated Press — as part of Obama’s crackdown on executive branch leaks. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and some Democrats have expressed outrage so far, Senate Republicans have been timid in their response.
“Maybe now that Fox is involved, more [Republicans] will pay attention, but it didn’t make a difference to me,” Graham said.
Of course, with both Graham and Obama calling for a media shield law, you know there has to be a catch—and there is. Both men support a national security exception. Depending how broadly that exception is written, it could easily render a media shield law moot in virtually every case where it might be applicable.
Even if the law isn't worthless, there's still the question of whether it can get enough Republican support to pass. Despite Graham's optimism, there's scant evidence that Republicans are ready to make the leap. For example:
“As a former newspaper man, I’m totally outraged,” said Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts of the DOJ’s affidavit against Rosen. “We don’t need a shield law, the 1st amendment is the shield law.”Actually, there does need to be a law. A judge approved the warrant on Rosen; the AP phone records subpoena was legal. You can say that the administration shouldn't have exercised its power, but the fact is that it already has. Unless there's a way to retroactively challenge what happened in court (and there might be—I'm not a lawyer), the options are to change the law or just hope that the executive branch restrains itself.
The only other Republican senator to release a statement was Marco Rubio, but his statement completely sidestepped the issue of a media shield and instead suggested that the administration was engaged in a witch hunt against political enemies. The facts, though, don't bear that out. Fox may be critical of Obama, but the Fox and AP leak investigations were actually demanded by Republicans as well as the administration.
Of all the so-called "scandals," this is the one case where it's clear there's something that needs to be fixed. Democrats, Republicans, and the White House need to decide whether they want to continue using fear to justify eroding civil liberties or whether it's time to start putting freedom first again.