Tag Archives: George W. Bush

NEFAC honors James Risen, a free-press hero

James Risen

James Risen

James Risen is a free-press hero. Whether he will also prove to be a First Amendment hero depends on the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Friday, Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times, was presented  with the 2014 Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award by the New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC), which is affiliated with Northeastern University. (I wish I’d been able to attend, but I was teaching.) Risen faces prison for refusing to identify an anonymous CIA source who helped inform Risen’s reporting on a failed operation to interfere with Iran’s nuclear program — a story Risen told in his 2006 book, “State of War.”

Both the Bush and the Obama administrations have pushed for Risen to give up his source, but Risen has refused. “The choice is get out of the business — give up everything I believe in — or go to jail. They’ve backed me into a corner,” Risen was quoted as saying in this Boston Globe article by Eric Moskowitz. Also weighing in with a detailed account of the NEFAC event is Tom Mooney of The Providence Journal.

My Northeastern colleague Walter Robinson, a former Globe reporter and editor, said this of Risen:

There’s no one anywhere on the vast landscape of American journalism who merits this award more than you do. It is hard to imagine a more principled and patriotic defense of the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, Risen has little in the way of legal protection. The Supreme Court, in its 1972 Branzburg v. Hayes decision, ruled that the First Amendment does not protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources. In addition, there is no federal shield law. Thus journalists like Risen must hope that the attorney general — and, ultimately, the president — respect the role of a free press in a democratic society sufficiently not to take reporters to court. President Obama has failed that test in spectacular fashion.

Risen has asked the Supreme Court to take his case, giving the justices an opportunity to overturn or at least modify the Branzburg decision. But if the court declines to take the case, the president should order Attorney General Eric Holder to call off the dogs.

The Stephen Hamblett Award is named for the late chairman, chief executive officer and publisher of The Providence Journal. Previous recipients have been the late New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, then-Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (now executive editor of The Washington Post) and Phil Balboni, founder of GlobalPost and, previously, New England Cable News.

More: On this week’s “Beat the Press,” my WGBH colleague Margery Eagan paid tribute to Risen in the “Rants & Raves” segment.

Juliette Kayyem and the view from 2001

220px-JKayyem_headshot

Juliette Kayyem

Terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem, a former federal and state official and former Boston Globe columnist, may run is running for governor in 2014. In late 2001 I wrote a brief profile of her for The Boston Phoenix. Yes, it’s a little gushy — it was for our “Best” issue, and Kayyem was one of our designated “Local Heroes.”

But read this and weep:

Her biggest worry about the Bush administration’s approach is that, by tilting its priorities toward security rather than liberty, it is sending a negative message to the moderate Arab countries that are part of the fragile anti-terrorism coalition.

If Kayyem could give the administration one piece of advice, it would be to drop the “war” metaphor. With September 11 behind us, the pursuit of Al Qaeda well under way, and the anthrax attacks now believed to be the work of a domestic Unabomber type, the worst of it may already be over — yet the use of the word “war” justifies anti-liberty policies that serve no purpose in rooting out terrorism.

Kayyem is a smart, serious person, and in an uninspiring field, she could surprise people.

Photo via Wikipedia.

Edward Snowden and the peril facing journalism

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

This commentary was published earlier at The Huffington Post.

The editors of The New York Times appear to have forgotten an important principle: the First Amendment is for all of us, and does not grant any special privileges to the institutional press. Thus if Edward Snowden is prosecuted for leaking classified documents about the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programs, the news organizations that published those documents could face criminal charges as well.

The possibility that journalists could be in legal jeopardy for doing their jobs seems not to have occurred to whoever wrote an editorial in today’s Times, which argues that Snowden should be prepared to pay the price for civil disobedience by way of his leaks to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Though the editorial dismisses the absurd notion that Snowden has committed treason, it concludes with this observation, which comes across as semi-sympathetic but contains toxic implications: “Mr. Snowden may well be going to jail for exposing practices that should never have been secret in the first place.”

In fact, if Snowden, as seems likely, is charged under the Espionage Act of 1917, there is nothing to stop the government from going after The Washington Post as well — or The Guardian, if someone would like to seek extradition of Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story, and his editor, Alan Rusbridger.

American journalists in these situations operate on the premise that they are free to publish information even if the source or sources who gave it to them violated the law in obtaining it. That’s largely true — First Amendment protections against censorship are extraordinarily high. The corollary, though, is that there may be consequences to be paid post-publication.

The best-known example is the Pentagon Papers, a case that should be near and dear to the hearts of Times editors. In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Times and the Post could not be prevented from publishing the government’s secret history of the Vietnam War.

But as civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate pointed out in a 2006 article for The Boston Phoenix, five of the nine justices essentially invited the government to file charges against the Times and the Post after publication — and the Nixon administration was preparing to do just that before it got caught up in the burgeoning Watergate scandal.

Silverglate was concerned that the Times faced possible charges under the Espionage Act for revealing the existence of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Even though the program illegally circumvented the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, then-president George W. Bush called the Times’ reporting “a shameful act” — and Gabriel Schoenfeld, writing in Commentary, was just one on the neocon right who argued that the Times should be prosecuted.

More recently, the Times published many of the WikiLeaks documents exposed by Bradley Manning, who is now on trial and who may face a life sentence. And in 2010 John Cook posted a short piece in Gawker making the commonsense observation that the Times potential liability was precisely the same as that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had been targeted by Attorney General Eric Holder. Cook wrote:

So if it was a crime when Assange obtained the database, why wasn’t it a crime when the Times did? The Espionage Act makes no distinctions when it comes to sources of defense information: It’s a crime to “obtain [it] from any person, or from any source whatever.” Assange got it from Manning, the Times got it from the Guardian; both transactions are equally criminal under the act.

More than a year ago, I argued that President Barack Obama was engaged in a “war on journalism” stemming from his administration’s obsession with rooting out leakers. Recently we learned that the Justice Department had spied on the Associated Press and on Fox News reporter James Rosen, and had even gotten a judge to sign a search warrant identifying Rosen as a criminal co-conspirator. Now U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is calling for journalists to be prosecuted for publishing the NSA documents leaked by Snowden.

This is a moment of great peril for journalism. With 56 percent of Americans saying they don’t mind if the government monitors their phone records, public opinion is hardly on the side of whistleblowers and the news organizations that work with them.

Whether we approve of everything Edward Snowden did or not, The New York Times and others in our craft ought to show more solidarity. If he is in trouble, so are all of us.

Debunking the “partisan shifts” on surveillance

The most important (and chilling) finding from the latest Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey is that 56 percent of Americans say they support the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone records, email and other electronic traffic.

A few, though, have pointed to a chart showing supposed hypocrisy on the part of Democrats. In January 2006, self-identified Democrats opposed the NSA’s surveillance programs by a margin of two to one. Today they support those programs by an almost identical margin.

The chart is helpfully labeled “Partisan Shifts in Views of NSA Surveillance Programs.” But what really matters is a parenthetical: “See previous table for differences in question wording.”

So I did, and you can, too. The 2006 survey, by ABC News and The Washington Post, was based on the following proposition: “NSA has been investigating people suspected of terrorist involvement by secretly listening in on phone calls & reading emails without court approval…”

This time around, Pew and the Post put it this way: “NSA has been getting secret court orders to track calls of millions of Americans to investigate terrorism…”

I added the emphasis in both instances to highlight the differences. Under George W. Bush, without court approval; under Barack Obama, with court approval. And: “listening in on phone calls” in 2006 versus “track[ing] calls” in 2013. A considerable difference, regardless of what you think of the NSA’s activities (and, for the record, I’m glad they’ve been exposed).

This one is on us

As we all express our outrage over the Verizon snooping, as we should, let’s remember: President Obama did this legally, following a provision of the Patriot Act that, as a senator, he voted for, and that Hillary Clinton, among others, opposed.

For years, politicians who voted against such things were demagogued as soft on terror. When The New York Times exposed George W. Bush’s illegal secret wiretapping, Bush called the story “shameful,” and some (including then-attorney general John Ashcroft) called for the Times to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

So, yes, we should express our outrage. At ourselves.

Obama’s war on journalism and free expression

President Obama

This commentary also appears at the Huffington Post.

Kudos to David Carr of the New York Times for shining a light on an issue that doesn’t attract nearly the attention that it should: the Obama administration’s abuse of the Espionage Act, which in turn has led to a virtual war on journalism and free expression.

As Carr notes, the Espionage Act, approved in 1917 during the hysteria of World War I, was used three times before President Obama took office in 2009 — and six times during his presidency.

We live in a dangerous era, and there have been prosecutions with which it may be hard to disagree. Carr cites the case of Bradley Manning, who’s been charged with stealing national-security documents that are at the heart of the WikiLeaks disclosures.

But Carr also writes that leak prosecutions often seem to be aimed more at punishing people for embarrassing the government than for genuinely damaging national security. In a particularly ironic case, a former CIA officer named John Kiriakou has been charged with leaking the names of agents involved in interrogating terrorism suspects. Carr points out that “none of the individuals who engaged in or authorized the waterboarding of terror suspects have been prosecuted.”

(More about the Kiriakou case from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Kiriakou has denied the charges.)

Kudos, too, to Jake Tapper of ABC News, whose confrontation with White House press secretary Jay Carney is the hook Carr uses to delve into the issue. A fuller account of Tapper and Carney’s exchange can be found here. Here’s Tapper responding to Carney’s praise for the journalist Marie Colvin, killed in Syria last week:

How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court? You’re — currently I think that you’ve invoked it the sixth time, and before the Obama administration, it had only been used three times in history. You’re — this is the sixth time you’re suing a CIA officer for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture. Certainly that’s something that’s in the public interest of the United States. The administration is taking this person to court. There just seems to be disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States.

I suspect Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have gotten a pass from many liberals because they believe a Republican president would be even worse on such matters. The fact is, though, that no president has been more aggressive than Obama in prosecuting suspected leakers.

And given the way the media work, it’s no surprise that they’ve said little, since the heart of what they do is respond to accusations. The storyline being promoted by Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich is that Obama is weak on national security, so they’re certainly not going to criticize the president for being too tough on leakers. Thus, no story.

When the government wants to take suspected leakers to court, it inevitably demands that journalists reveal their confidential sources. There is no constitutionally recognized right for journalists to protect their sources, and no federal shield law, which means that such cases have a considerable chilling effect on tough reporting.

In 2006, “Frontline” interviewed Mark Corallo, who was director of public affairs for George W. Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft. In this transcript, you’ll see that Corallo, with the support of Ashcroft — not generally thought of as a friend of the First Amendment — approved only one subpoena for a journalist out of “dozens” that were requested. Corallo continued:

I can’t tell you about that case. It was a national-security case. I believed, after long reflection, that it did put innocent people’s lives in danger, our allies, people in other countries who would be subject to terrorist attacks. The case was so egregious; it was such a horrible instance of unethical behavior by a journalist to boot.

I hope Tapper’s tough questioning and Carr’s column are the beginning of a genuine attempt to hold the Obama White House to account for its repressive policies.

Grumpy conservatives survey post-Iowa scene

Mitt Romney campaigning in Iowa — in 2007

This commentary is also online at the Huffington Post.

The conservative commentariat today is grumpy. And perhaps none is grumpier than Red State’s Erick Erickson, who’s unhappy not only with the Republicans’ eight-vote front-runner, Mitt Romney, but with his newly elevated conservative challenger, Rick Santorum.

Complaining that Santorum is a “big government conservative” in the tradition of George W. Bush, Erickson writes that the former Pennsylvania senator’s reputation as a retail politician is vastly overblown. “His campaign was not successful, it’s just all the others sucked so bad,” he says. Erickson’s improbable dream: a renewed effort by one-time Tea Party favorite Rick Perry, who’s gone home to Texas and who may be out of the race by the end of the day.

Aside from the impossibly thin margin separating Romney and Santorum, there was nothing about the Iowa caucuses that should have surprised anyone. For days it had been clear that Romney, Santorum and Ron Paul would be the three top finishers. And it remains Romney’s central dilemma that even though he seems the likely nominee, the conservatives who comprise the base of the Republican Party can’t stand him.

“He has all the king’s horses and all the king’s men supporting him, the print MSM and most segments on Fox News Channel in his favor, yet for the second time in four years, 75 percent of Iowa caucus-goers rejected him,” writes Kellyanne Conway at National Review. (Conway, a political consultant working for Newt Gingrich, nevertheless reserves her strongest praise for Santorum.)

Over at Slate, John Dickerson offers a startling statistic: According to entrance polls, Santorum beat Romney 36 percent to one percent among caucus-goers who wanted a true conservative. “Santorum is now the only Flavor of the Week candidate to actually win anything,” Dickerson says, “which makes him a genuine threat to Romney, at least for the moment.”

So what is a conservative to do? Daniel Larison’s response is to grouse. Writing at Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative, Larison mocks the notion that any of the Republicans who didn’t get into the race, like South Dakota senator John Thune or former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, could have stopped the Romney machine. Larison continues:

“It remains true that Romney shouldn’t be the nominee, and Republicans will regret nominating him, but it seems extremely unlikely at this stage that anything is going to prevent it from happening.”

At National Review, Jim Geraghty fingers the Ames Straw Poll as a principal source of conservative angst, since it prematurely ended the campaign of someone who might actually have beaten Romney:

“The Hawkeye State killed off the chances of a perfectly good candidate, Tim Pawlenty, in favor of his Minnesota rival Michele Bachmann, only to drop her like seventh-period Spanish by the time the actual caucuses rolled around.”

Yet if Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, really had that much potential, surely he should have been able to beat Bachmann, who is apparently headed for the exits as I write this. Maybe Pawlenty could have grown if he hadn’t been pushed out by a ridiculously early, meaningless test — or if, despite the Ames result, he’d kept working it, like Santorum, written off by everyone until just a few weeks ago. But in public, Pawlenty came off as being cut from the same cloth as Romney, a bit more conservative perhaps, but even less charismatic, if such a thing is possible.

At the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes predicts that conservatives will now coalesce around Santorum, creating a “one-on-one race” that “is exactly what Romney hoped to avoid at this stage.” And at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan bizarrely (not to be redundant) proclaims that Romney emerges from Iowa a stronger candidate because he succeeded in vanquishing Gingrich, “a foe big enough that when you beat him it means something.”

The Pollyanna award goes to Ross Douthat of the New York Times, who thinks caucus-goers did themselves proud last night. “Presented with the weakest presidential field of any major party in a generation,” he writes, “they made the best of a bad situation, punching the three most deserving tickets without handing any of them a decisive victory.”

Which sounds like another way of saying — to echo Pat Caddell and John LeBoutillier on FoxNews.com last night — that the big winner of the Iowa caucuses was Barack Obama.

Photo (cc) by IowaPolitics.com and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.