The media’s hands aren’t clean either .
New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, at the Investigative Reporters & Editors annual conference last month, said the Obama administration’s aggressive investigation of leaks “threatens to rob the public of vital information.’’ She said one Times reporter told her, “The environment in Washington has never been more hostile to reporting.’’
I heard complaints like that during Watergate. And I hear them now every time an administration — Democratic or Republican — says it’s going to crack down on leaks. Few professions are as thin-skinned as threatened journalists.
On July 19, Pentagon spokesman George Little issued a statement that said senior officials “will monitor all major, national level media reporting for unauthorized disclosures of Defense Department classified information.”
The Pentagon Press Association wrote to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta the next day, saying it was worried the monitoring reference “could be interpreted” as authorizing “intrusive actions” against defense reporters. It also asked Panetta, “Are you authorized to monitor phone conversations, emails or press workspaces without our knowledge?”
The Senate Intelligence panel’s bill is also hyper-vigilante.
It requires congressional intelligence panels to be notified of any “authorized disclosure of national intelligence or intelligence related to national security” to the media by any “officer, employee or contractor of the Executive Branch.”
There are no definitions of “national intelligence” or “intelligence related to the national security.”
Think of how many reports could be generated.
Another provision tries to limit who can talk with the media to provide “background or off-the-record information regarding intelligence activities.”
Again no definition of “background” or “off-the-record information.”
The legislation limits those background or off-the-record briefings to the director and deputy director of each intelligence agency, or their equals, plus public affairs specialists designated in writing by the director.
All sorts of officials have given such briefings, sometimes weekly from agencies dealing with national security.
Funny that no mention is made of backgrounders on Capitol Hill.
Of course no leaks ever occur from lawmakers or their staffers.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtopost.com/fedpage.