It’s Friday and as we all know the Obama Administration loves doing things on Fridays. Especially things that it wants to slip under the cover so not many people will notice including the press. Take the now infamous NDAA law that Obama signed into law on New Years Eve 2012 which allows for the military to arrest and detain Americans without charges or trial indefinitely. The Obama Administration was hoping the whole nation was out partying and no one would pay any attention. I guess they over-generalized that assumption because plenty of people were not getting drunk that night and they did notice including the press. Keeping in their normal M.O. Justice Dept lawyers today attacked “Reporter’s Privilege” which has long been an icon of the free media as part of their broader war against the media and government leaks. DOJ lawyers appeared before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and argued that a NY Times reporter should be forced to testify in a trial of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling. The NYT reporter is James Risen. Sterling was charged with leaking classified info to Risen concerning a botched plot against the Iranian government. DOJ lawyer, Robert Parker, argued today that there is no reporter’s privilege whenever a reporter receives illegally leaked info on national security secrets.
Appeals Court Judge Robert Gregory asked Parker why he thought the public’s interest in a free press outweighs circumstances in the case. Parker declined to answer the judge and refused to explain to the judge saying he did not think there would be a “balancing test” because there is no reporter’s privilege “in the first place.” Judge Gregory responded by pointing out a Supreme Court case, Branzburg vs Hayes, decision involved the witnessing of another crime and not the disclosure itself when Parker cited the case to the judge as proof that there is no reporter’s privilege.
DOJ lawyer Parker equated what Risen did to someone receiving drugs from a confidential source and then turning around and refusing to testify about it in court. Judge Gregory was not convinced as he responded with, “You think so?”. The judge went on to elaborate telling Parker that the “beneficiary of the privilege is the public…the people’s right to know.” He added, “We need to know what the government is doing. The king never wants anyone to disclose.”
One of the other Appeals Court judges, Judge Albert Diaz, looked surprised when Parker said the Supreme Court case mentioned above was clear. Diaz responded by saying, “Clear as mud!”.
This case has been ongoing since 2008 when Risen published a book entitled “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” In July 2011 US District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that Risen had a qualified reporter’s privilege against Sterling and said, “A criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook!”
Risen himself says that the DOJ is saying there is no reporter’s privilege when if comes to confidential informants and whistle-blowers in government. He believes the Holder DOJ wants the court to rule on a basic constitutional issue of whether or not reporters have such privilege in criminal cases so they don’t have to testify against or reveal their informants. Risen believes this case is significant because he said, “I think the basic issue is whether you can have a democracy without aggressive investigative reporting and I don’t believe you can.”
The Obama administration has aggressively gone after government whistle-blowers over the course of the past four years. Whenever they speak of reporter’s privilege they’ve always qualified it in quotation marks which indicates they never believed it existed to begin with even though there is clear and long evidence that it has. The administration has charged at least six government workers under the Espionage Act for giving out classified info to reporters in the past. The US Espionage Act was passed during WWI to prevent aiding the enemy. The Obama administration has used it more than any other past administration. However, the Obama administration refuses to prosecute those people responsible for torturing prisoners in Iraq under the Bush administration nor have they prosecuted Bush and Cheney for lying to the American people claiming there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. NONE were found! And Bush later joked about it as it putting the US into a worthless war was funny!
Most of us have heard of attorney-client privilege, doctor-patient privilege, etc. In those situations information exchanged between clients/patients and doctors/attorneys is considered by law to be confidential. The same holds true when it comes to reporter-informant privilege. Under law none of these professionals has to disclose information that is confidential relating to themselves and their clients or informants. There are hundreds of court cases over the last 50 years supporting reporter’s privileges and the Obama administration is trying to make it appear that it is not so and that no such privilege has ever existed. Again we have the Obama administration trying to spin the facts.
One thing we cannot help but notice about the Obama administration is they have a deep desire to be secretive. Of course so did the Bush and Clinton administrations but Obama’s seems to be overboard and that is cause for concern. Keep in mind that it was this president, Barack Obama, who promised his would be the most transparent administration in American history. Sadly, just the opposite has turned out to be true. This administration is actually one of the most secretive and far from being transparent.
This is a direct assault not only on the media but also one more assault on the American people and our Constitution. What one might gather from the stance of the Holder DOJ is that the American public does NOT have a right to know anything. That is very alarming! A free press cannot exist under such assumptions. Such a stance is only conducive to a controlled press like they had in the old Soviet Union and Eastern bloc nations. The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press and if you take the Obama administrations stance that guarantee becomes null and void.
The public has an absolute right to know what the government is doing in a republic with a constitution and Bill of Rights. If reporters have no reporter’s privilege then reporters will not report news that warrants the public’s attention about what government is doing. Thus it would be an indirectly controlled press but controlled nevertheless. This cannot be in a democracy. It must not be.