Is the Press Still Free?

by Dan Ward

I hope the IRS will forgive me for piling on, but the First Amendment (at least for now) affords me the right to publicly voice my concerns about what appears to be another intrusion on the freedom of the press.

As readers of this blog know, I spare no criticism of the press.  I believe today’s media too often cover entertainment as news, too often worry about click counts rather than content, and too often value primacy over accuracy.

That said, I wholly defend the right of the press to do its job.  And one aspect of that job is to monitor our government and at times share with us information our government would prefer to keep secret.  That freedom applies as much MSNBC as it does to Fox News.

The fact that the Justice Department obtained the private emails of a Fox News reporter in a leak investigation should concern anyone who communicates for a living.  Fox’s James Rosen was named a potential “co-conspirator” in a search warrant under the Espionage Act, granting the FBI access to his personal email account.  His supposed crime? Encouraging a government informant to share information.  That used to be something we’d call “reporting.”

As The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson (normally one of the most strident Administration supporters) points out, the Watergate reporters, the reporter who disclosed the CIA’s network of secret prisons, and the journalists who revealed the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program could today be in jail if prior administrations had taken this view of the First Amendment.

The First Amendment does not shield the press from breaking the law, but covering the inner workings of government is not illegal.  It is the role of the press that the Founders themselves meant to protect.

As I wrote here more than three years ago in “The Power of Free – Part II,” the First Amendment is not meant to be convenient.  It is meant to identify essential freedoms that define who we are.  I hope that definition has not changed.

2 Responses to Is the Press Still Free?

  1. […] I’ve written many times about free speech issues, and have shared concern here about Justice Department intrusions on the freedom of the press. […]

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