Saturday, August 5, 2017

Newsweek -- Trump Administration Threatens Freedom of the Press in New Leaks Crackdown

Attorney general Jeff Sessions said on Friday that the Department of Justice has “tripled the number of active leak investigations,” and has devoted new FBI resources to cracking down on leakers and promising that the department was reviewing its approach to subpoenaing journalists.

Sessions’ announcement was heavy on threats but light on specifics. So we will have to wait and see what transpires.

But, “Writing in the New York Times, law professors RonNell Andersen Jones of the University of Utah and Sonja R. West of the University of Georgia, have warned that First Amendment protections of press freedom are flimsier than some believe.

"We cannot simply sit back and expect that the First Amendment will rush in to preserve the press, and with it our right to know. Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.’"

With all due respect, Mr. President and Attorney General Sessions, it appears you can't handle the truth.

I understand that the press has been a mighty check on the lies, inconsistencies, and cynical ploys that have been coming out of this White House. I understand that it has led to public outcry and a wide ranging criminal investigation by a Special Counsel. I understand that much of this reporting has been based on leaks and unnamed sources, from inside the Administration and from especially the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The exercise of a free and independent press has been the exact bulwark against a government in need of accountability - just as our Founding Fathers envisioned. I shudder to think where we would be without it today.

So the news that the Justice Department is devoting significant resources to tracking down leaks and changing the rules to target the press is a chilling development. There are certainly times when an issue of great national security should not be shared with the public. And most of the journalism organizations I have known or been a part of take that responsibility very seriously. There are some cases where prosecuting leakers may - may - be warranted. But that is not what is going on here. The goal is very clear. The President has complained bitterly of leaks because he doesn't want to be questioned, even when he has been caught in lie after lie.

“We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Mr. Sessions said. “They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.” That is true. So the question is, what lives have been put at risk with all this reporting? And with impunity? Please save us the disingenuousness.

The free press is performing exactly as it needs to. And the proof of that is how seriously those who wish their actions remain undetectable consider the press to be their enemy.

Most reporters I have known take a naked threat such as this as further inspiration to dig even harder to expose the truth. News, as I have said, is what the powerful want to keep hidden.

By Tom Porter