Question is, who is watching who?
When news broke that Department of Justice secretly moved to obtain the phone records of the Associated Press, it didn't come as a huge surprise. The role of the Fourth Estate, at its core, is to let the other estates know what's going on.
I wrote about the origin of the estates in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., late last year. At that time I chided the national media in its covering of a tragic situation. However we may feel about one outlet's coverage over another, the media plays a key role in making sure the public is as well informed as the government is.
So, when I heard that the DOJ tracked the calls coming and going on 20 lines operated by the AP, I guess they wanted to get to the inside information quicker than what it takes to read what has been published. But, it goes deeper, as the calls that were tracked included inside sources, and office and cell phone conversations of six individual reporters. Those reporters happened to have written on Yemen … a report that the Obama administration was said to not have wanted written.
When the government, which in the public eye tells everyone it is striving for transparency, and then behind the curtain works as a thug to intimidate the community watchdog, we have a problem.
Reporters Without Borders, which tracks journalism and government interference around the world, called the latest move a "flagrant violation."
"We share the view of AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt, who called it a 'massive and unprecedented intrusion' in a letter yesterday to US attorney general Eric Holder," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "We urge the DOJ to comply immediately with the AP's request for the return or destruction of the seized phone records.
"We also think that such a flagrant violation of constitutional guarantees needs to be the subject of a congressional commission of inquiry. We regret to see that the federal government has not ended the practices that prevailed during President George W. Bush's two terms, when officials sacrificed the protection of private data and, above all, the First Amendment right to be informed."
Political talkers will point to partisan moves in regards to this and other recently exposed blunders in different branches of the government. But, it appears to neither be liberal nor conservative. The ages-old battle has always been between those with power and those without.
"This case has demonstrated the need for a federal shield law that guarantees the protection of journalists' sources, a principle that 34 of the Union's states already recognize to varying degrees in their legislation," Deloire said.
Now I'm not one to say that more rules by government to protect a group of people from the government is what is needed. I find it ironic.
However, if we want to hold onto the truest freedom we have – to be presented the information and make our own decisions – we need to protect the flow of information and who we entrust to deliver it.
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