The October 27th issue of the Nation has a terrific article: The Government’s War on Whistleblowers by Normon Solomon and Marcy Wheeler.The story powerfully details retaliation by both the Bush and Obama administrations against both whistleblowers and the reporters who tell their stories. In great detail, the Nation shows retaliation against New York Times reporter James Risen who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting the existence and details of a secret domestic wiretapping program. The story was followed up by a bestselling book.
Both recent administrations have sought to prove that Jeffrey Sterling, formerly with the CIA, was the whistleblower who provided Risen with the information. One of the obvious problems with the pursuit of Risen and Sterling is that it was initiated by the very people who were criticized in the reporting and the policies criticized have been continued by the Obama Administration. If a prosecution were contemplated at all, the need for an independent prosecutor was obvious from day one.
But the methods pursued by the government are independently indefensible. The Obama Administration opposes the confidentiality of journalist’s sources in court. More devious, it secured three subpoenas to get Risen’s credit reports, travel records, credit-card records, and bank records in an effort to determine who the source might be without regard for Risen’s privacy. You might imagine that this could have a chilling effect on reporters and their sources.
Risen’s case is not alone. In just one case, the Nation reports that Holder’s DOJ secured the phone records of twenty phone lines affecting 100 journalists in order to find the source for a single story. That this could occur highlights the bankruptcy of Fourth Amendment law and First Amendment law. But it also underscores the Administration’s thin skinned insensitivity to the importance of a free press, an arrogant desire to keep the public in the dark, and an apparent desire to terrorize those who would publish information the Administration does not want us to see however much it purports to say that it “welcomes the debate.”
It would be wrong to assume that this campaign of terror is ineffective. David Barstow, a New York Times reporter, puts it well:
“I’ve felt the chill firsthand. Trusted sources in Washington are scared to talk by telephone, or by e-mail, or even to meet for coffee, regardless of whether the subject touches on national security or not. My fellow investigative reporters commiserate about how we are being forced to act like drug dealers, taking extreme precautions to avoid leaving any digital bread crumbs about where we’ve been and who we’ve met.”
We would do well to recognize that the Obama Administration stands in the tradition of Richard M. Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. It is no friend of the press. Indeed, the harm it has imposed on the press, public information, and American democracy is incalculable.