The president hasn’t attempted to distance himself from the Associated Press snooping campaign. To the contrary, he offered “no apologies.” To be blunt, he approves the most invasive breach of the First Amendment against any news organization in the history of the republic. No president has tried this and for good reason. We now have yet another media abuse story, in a way much more severe.
The Post breaks the story that the Obama administration indulged in excruciatingly invasive spying on James Rosen of Fox News and, in an unprecedented move, asserted that his newsgathering is criminal. The Post reports:
When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.
They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails.
Moreover, the FBI agent involved in his affidavit asserted “that there was evidence Rosen had broken the law, ‘at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.’ That fact distinguishes his case from the probe of the AP, in which the news organization is not the likely target.” No administration has ever taken this stance.
Even before The Post story broke, the AP’s impressive chief executive, Gary Pruitt, went on “Face the Nation” to outline the media dragnet conducted on his editors and reporters. He explained that 21 phone lines were involved. “And these were phone lines for reporters, direct lines, cellphones, home phones. But also the office numbers, the main office numbers for AP offices in New York, Washington, the House of Representatives, and Hartford, Connecticut. So over a hundred — approximately a hundred journalists used these telephone lines as part of news gathering. And over the course of the two months of the records that they swept up, thousands and — upon thousands of news gathering calls were made.”
Moreover, it appears the surveillance was undertaken in retribution for refusing to all the administration to itself break the news about a foiled al Qaeda plot:
GARY PRUITT: This was very good news, but strangely, at the same time, the administration, through the press secretary and the Department of Homeland Security, were telling the American public that there was no credible evidence of a terrorist plot related to the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. So that was misleading to the American public. We felt the American public needed to know this story.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Now, when you got the story, at first the people who gave it to you asked you to hold it for a certain time.
GARY PRUITT: Yes. So what happened was we got this story. We went to the government–the White House, intelligence agencies–they said there’s a national security risk if you run this story, if you go with this story at this time. We respected that. We acted responsibly, we held the story.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Then?
GARY PRUITT: Then five days– we– we held it for five days. On the fifth day, we heard from high officials in two parts of the government that the national security issues had passed and at that point, we released the story. . . . The White House wanted to– wanted us to hold it another day because they wanted to announce this successful foiling of the plot.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So they wanted– they didn’t want to get scooped.
GARY PRUITT: I guess. I guess that– they didn’t tell us their motive, but that certainly seemed that way to us. We didn’t think that was a legitimate reason for holding the story.
How typical of the administration crew. It was not national security that motivated this administration crusade against AP, but Obama officials’ pique over being denied bragging rights. (This administration wildly leaked the details of the Osama bin Laden raid, to the horror of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.)
To understand how egregious this was, one should remember the administration never asked for the records. The object was not the leak but to make a show of going after leakers. Pruitt observed:
And so now they possess the phone records of thousands– thousands of news gathering phone calls of the Associated Press, and they are required to narrow– under their own rules, they are required to narrow these– this request as narrowly as possible, so as to not tread upon the– the First Amendment. And, yet, they had a broad sweeping collection, and they did it secretly. The rules require them to come to us first but in this case, they didn’t, claiming an exception saying that if they had, it would have posed a substantial threat to their investigation. But they have– they’ve not explained why it would, and we can’t understand why it would. We never even had possession of these records. They were in the possession of our telephone service company. And they couldn’t be tampered with. So usually they would come to us. We would try to narrow the request, the subpoena. If we didn’t come to an agreement, we could go to a judge, and an independent arbiter could decide upon the scope of the subpoena. . . .
I know what the message being sent is, is that if you talk to the press, we’re going to– we’re going to go after you. We’re going to go after these leakers. I don’t know what their motive is, but I can tell you their actions are unconstitutional. We don’t question their right to conduct these sort of investigations. We just think they went about it the wrong way. So sweeping, so secretively, so abusively, and harassingly and overbroad that it constitutes that it– that it is an unconstitutional act. . . .
I think that it will hurt journalism. In fact, we’re already seeing some impact. Already, officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of news gathering are already saying to us that they’re a little reluctant to talk to us. They fear that they– they will be monitored by the government. So we’re already seeing. It’s not hypothetical. We’re actually seeing impact already.
And the administration got its way — chilling reporting and scaring off sources. For this and for an attempt to criminalize ordinary news gathering the president declares, “No apologies.” Had a Republican president approved all this I am quite certain the left would be calling for heads to roll.
Bob Schieffer, without yet knowing about the Rosen case, blasted the administration:
We heard that the President say that he didn’t find out about [the IRS scandal] until last week, last week, which qualified him for Washington’s fastest growing club, the longer and longer list of officials who suddenly don’t know much about a lot of unpleasant things from Benghazi to the Associated Press investigation. At this point, just spare me the talking points and the excuses. No matter whether Republicans or Democrats are doing this kind of thing, this stuff is not just wrong it’s really stupid. And it will take more than firing a few temps and low-level bureaucrats to fix it. The President won reelection with a smart political team, but the election is over. Maybe he should look now for people of substance who know about other things who could help him govern.
Who but the Obama-sycophants could argue with that?