DANA MILBANK: Beat the press

By Dana Milbank

There are various reasons you might not care about the Obama administration’s spying on journalist James Rosen and labeling him an “aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in an espionage case.
Liberals may not be particularly bothered because the targeted journalist works for Fox News.
Conservatives may not be concerned because of their antipathy toward the news media generally. And the general public certainly doesn’t have much patience for journalists’ whining.
The Rosen affair is as flagrant an assault on civil liberties as anything done by George W. Bush’s administration, and it uses technology to silence critics in a way Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of.
To treat a reporter as a criminal for doing his job – seeking out information the government doesn’t want made public – deprives Americans of the First Amendment freedom on which all other constitutional rights are based.
My Washington Post colleague Ann E. Marimow, who broke the Rosen story, obtained the affidavit by FBI agent Reginald Reyes seeking access to Rosen’s private emails.
Rosen’s supposed crime? Reyes got his evidence from an email from the reporter: “I want to report authoritatively, and ahead of my competitors, on new initiatives or shifts in U.S. policy, events on the ground in (North Korea), what intelligence is picking up, etc. … I’d love to see some internal State Department analyses. … In short: Let’s break some news …”
That is indeed compelling evidence – of good journalism.
And how did Rosen commit this crime?
Kim told investigators Rosen is a “very convincing, persistent person” who “would tell me I was brilliant and it is possible I succumbed to flattery.”
Only in this Justice Department could flattery get you a prison term.
President Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters that there must be a “balance” between a free press and leaks that “can endanger the lives of men and women in uniform and other Americans serving overseas.”
True, but the 2009 reports that prompted the probe confirmed what was already conventional wisdom
Carney told the White House press corps Tuesday that Obama doesn’t think “journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs” (perhaps he could remind the FBI of that), and the administration has renewed its support for a media shield law (a welcome but suspicious gesture, because the White House thwarted a previous attempt to pass the bill).
If Obama really is “a fierce defender of the First Amendment,” as his spokesman would have it, he will move quickly to fix this.
Otherwise, Obama is establishing an ominous precedent for future leaders whose fondness for the First Amendment may not be so fierce.
DANA MIILBANK writes for The Washington Post Writers Group. His email; address is danamilbank@washpost.com. Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

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