Commentary Magazine


Government They Love Gores Media’s Ox

Many in the liberal mainstream press have long regarded complaints about the growth of government power to be the preserve of wacky right-wingers who fear being seized by federal agents in black helicopters. But today many of the same journalists who expressed indifference if not scorn about conservative complaints about the seemingly insatiable demand for power on the part of the Obama administration are screaming bloody murder about the news that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of telephone records belonging to editors and reporters at the Associated Press.

The story about the AP has special resonance because it comes on the heels of the IRS scandal in which officials of the tax agency singled out conservative groups for selective scrutiny because of their criticism of the administration. But while as far as we know now that outrageous instance of abuse of power can only be traced back to Obama’s philosophy rather than directly to orders issued by senior figures in the White House, the infringement of the rights of the AP staff is of sufficient magnitude that it is almost impossible to imagine that it happened without the specific endorsement of Attorney General Eric Holder and possibly with the knowledge of the president. In other words, our chattering classes are getting a taste of the treatment that had heretofore only be meted out to people that were unofficial members of the administration’s unwritten enemies list.

If some of the hysteria breaking out on the Twitter feeds of liberal journalists over this story may be a bit overblown, I share the concerns expressed by the AP about an infringement of their First Amendment rights in which they rightly say information has been seized that “the government has no conceivable right to know.” But rather than merely talking about protecting the rights of the press, what we all ought to be discussing tonight and in the days and weeks that will follow is whether this is just one more symptom of an administration that seems to think there are no legal limits to its power.

The details of the case being investigated by the DOJ are not known, but reports indicate that it may be part of a probe into the leaking of classified information. It is suspected that the planting of a story in the AP that told of a successful CIA operation that foiled an al-Qaeda terrorist plot is the reason for the phone records grab. I don’t believe that the rights of the press to privileged status when it comes to revealing sources are absolute. When it comes to matters that are genuine cases of national security violations, the government has the right, if not the obligation, to track down leaks.

But the seizure of two months worth of phone records from such a large number of press figures undermines the notion that what is at stake here is an individual case of the press straying over a clearly demarcated line between illegal activities and doing its job. It smells like a fishing expedition whose purpose is as much to intimidate journalists as it is to uncover the truth about a leak.

It is hard to know when and if we’ll find out more about this case, but the bottom line here is that Holder and his minions have once again demonstrated that they consider themselves empowered to do pretty much anything they like when they wish to either prove a point or establish a precedent. The irony here is that this same tendency has earned the applause of much of the mainstream press when it is applied to implementation of the president’s signature health care legislation or its ability to run roughshod over other constitutional limits on their power. But they tend to see things differently when it comes to their own constitutional rights.

The AP phone records issue is now added to a roster of other scandals involving the IRS and the administration’s failures and lies about the Benghazi terror attack. You don’t have to be a paranoid member of the Tea Party or an embattled State Department whistleblower to understand that the Obama administration needs to be reined in before they make any further encroachments on our liberty. As of this evening, all you need is a press card.

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