DOJ Targets Fox Journalist–Shocked?

Posted on May 21, 2013 by


DOJ Fox News Rosen ScandalThe scandals continue to evolve. We now know the Department of Justice targeted James Rosen, Fox News’ chief Washington, D.C. correspondent, for his possible role in releasing sensitive, leaked information. After Rosen published a report on North Korea’s possible response to international sanctions, he was suspected of meeting with Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Dept. security adviser.

According to Politico, the FBI named Rosen a co-conspirator for publishing the story, and based on this classification, a judge granted a warrant the Dept. of Justice used to collect Rosen’s emails, documents, and attachments associated with a Gmail account. Google, naturally, complied with the warrant.

Slate‘s Ryan Gallagher argues this intrusion is actually far more damaging than the bubbling A.P. scandal. These sorts of legal tactics are “extreme,” according to Gallagher, and he notes the very real chilling effect this sort of investigation has on journalists in general.

Though on the surface it seems Rosen deserved the scrutiny, since he facilitated the criminal leaking of classified material (see the initial story here), the reality is far more ominous. Depending on how you count things, there have been SIX such prosecutions under President Obama, compared to only THREE in the rest of American history. That is right, ladies and gentlemen, President Obama really is number one.

As this New Republic piece makes clear, this kind of heavy-handedness has two effects. First, reporters begin to change their behavior due to the possibility they might be dragged in front of a grand jury. Second, and probably even more damaging, possible sources clam up–quickly. So, if you your friendly, neighborhood drone program is skirting the boundaries of the law, that poor cubicle dweller with a conscience becomes far less likely to talk due to the possibility that all of the DOJ’s fury will rain down around him or her. This is how government abuse goes unreported.

I have never been one to argue the First Amendment provides reporters with a sort of super-access to information or that they should be free from the legal consequences of their behavior. I don’t think the Freedom of the Press provides a substantive set of liberties that are unique to journalists. Primarily, I think it provides freedom from prior restraint, which is not at issue in Rosen’s case, for he was allowed to publish the piece, though he has been pressured since then.

At the same time, government should only go after journalists for very particular reasons, primarily because of the possible chilling effect that heavy-handed government has on the spread of information. Information is REQUIRED for our form of government to work. If the citizenry is not informed about possible mis-deeds, how can our elected officials be held accountable?

There is a balance, then, between the press’ liberties and our government’s need for secrecy. The Obama Administration has tilted, more than any government in our history, toward secrecy. What is fascinating about this, at least for me, is that the kinds of leaks we are discussing are generally minor and do not bear a strong relationship to significant security interests. Given that reality, this feels more punitive than anything else.