Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Judges Backing Up Administration Stance

The idea that the law applies to everyone, even journalists, is picking up steam. A federal judge has ordered an investigation into how the media found out that two Israeli lobbyists were under investigation before they were charged:

The order by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria came in the case against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, who are charged with receiving and disseminating national defense information. Legal experts say the case could lead to criminal prosecutions of reporters or newspapers that print information the government has classified.

This sets up a nice precedent for further prosecution of those who leak sensitive information to the media, as well as reporters who print classified information. Under the Espionage Act of 1917, anyone who leaks or conveys information with intent to harm the US armed forces or help its enemies can be jailed or fined. The bit about conveying information is critical, because it obligates reporters to not print classified information. Unfortunately, many journalists (and lawyers) feel that they are above the law; their calling, it seems, grants them rights no other Americans have:

"It's one of the first tangible signs that the view of the Bush administration, that journalists are not immune from prosecution for trafficking in classified information, might have currency with some federal judges," said Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond Law School and an expert on First Amendment law. He said it is an "open question" whether federal law allows for the prosecution of journalists for publishing classified information. (emphasis mine)

They often couch this as providing a service to Americans who, according to them, have the "right to know". Now, I'm no legal expert, but I can't seem to find the right to know anywhere in the constitution or its amendments.

This is a problem that is running rampant right now in the media, and I think its important. Media moguls are not a ruling class in America. They have no rights the average citizen does not. Furthermore, when they choose to "out" sensitive programs, they are bypassing the legal process for declassifying information. This could severely hamper the government's efforts in a time of war.

Mark Corallo says:
"Federal prosecutors have always been an aggressive bunch when it comes to pursuing journalists. But in the past, in the overwhelming majority of cases, both Republican and Democrat attorneys general have told the prosecutors that "can"just didn't translate to "should." In short, the Justice Department has exercised intelligent discretion."
He later speaks that the free press is supposed to be the public shield against a corrupt government, something I think is very true. However, I firmly believe that (as in all things) there needs to be a balance. In todays age of information transfer, knowledge that is leaked to the public domain can almost instantly be in the hands of the enemy. In a conflict where literally anyone could be a potential suicide bomber, this makes for a bad situation.

Reporters ought to be able to report on scandal, corruption, and other important matters of public knowledge. At the same time, the government has to be able to stop the information hemorrhage its experiencing right now. When reporters refuse to disclose sources, they basically leave whatever hole they exploited to get their information open for further leaks. Right now things are out of balance.

It was coincidence that this article was posted in the WaPo today, because I was planning on writing something up about it anyway. It seems to me that officials these days just can't seem to keep their mouths shut. I don't know how many times I've seen the phrase "spoken on the condition of anonymity" recently. Are people just disloyal to their organizations, or is the media saimply obsessed with creating the appearance of "insider knowledge" and conspiracy?

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with reporters.

He spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity under British government regulations.

Investigators from Bangkok swabbed Karr's mouth for DNA, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.