June 2, 2013 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Welcome to press freedom

By The Spokesman-Review

Politicians don’t care much about press freedom as a stand-alone issue. When they do express concern, it’s because it’s a handy cudgel with which to pummel political rivals.

When the Pentagon Papers were first published by the New York Times, Republicans called the editors traitors and sought the imprisonment of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked them. When the warrantless wiretaps and secret prisons of the Bush administration were revealed, reporters and editors were beat up by Republicans for compromising national security. When the WikiLeaks secrets were published on the Internet, some conservative pundits called for death sentences.

But when CIA agent Valerie Plame was outed, conservatives were fine with journalists who were willing to go to jail to protect their sources. And now they’re big fans of press freedom, because the cases involving the Associated Press and James Rosen of Fox News are an embarrassment to the Obama administration.

Big Brother! Arrogance! Executive power gone mad!

Well, that’s going to happen when Congress passes the Patriot Act and reinforces the Foreign Intelligence Service Act. Both parties voted for those bills, because neither one wanted to be portrayed as soft on terrorism.

But, look, I’m willing to accept any converts to the cause of government transparency, open records and press freedom. Just don’t jump ship when a Republican regains the White House and a reporter blows the cover of, say, sources inside North Korea. Just remember that’s what Rosen of Fox News did, so it must be defended.

Wait! You thought he was merely conveying information from a government whistleblower? Well, that’s understandable since the media have focused on the government search for the leak, rather than its content. Veteran national security reporter Walter Pincus sums it up in a recent piece for the Washington Post.

“The person or persons who told the Associated Press about the CIA operation that infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Kim – or someone else – who informed Rosen about North Korea, were not whistleblowers exposing government misdeeds. They harmed national security and broke the law.”

A charge like that mattered to Republicans not so long ago.

So, sure, President Barack Obama isn’t the transparency maven he claimed to be, and his administration has set a new high in low when it comes to pursuing journalists who traffic in national security information. But those are probes conservative pundits would defend if they didn’t involve praising a Democrat.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not completely persuaded with current defense of press freedoms. But if you really mean it, welcome aboard.

Walk the talk. Let’s say recent converts to the issues of press freedom and political transparency are truly sincere. How could they show it?

By supporting a strong federal shield law that protects reporters and their sources, lobbying for the DISCLOSE Act, which would flush anonymous campaign contributors out into the open, and calling for an end to the tax code loophole that allows political action groups such as Crossroads GPS, run by former Bush aide Karl Rove, and Americans for Prosperity, run by former Obama aide Bill Burton, to gain nonprofit status and keep the names of contributors a secret.

A shield law would’ve headed off the secret subpoenas of Associated Press phone records. Ending the shenanigans with 501(c)(4) tax status would take enforcement of campaign laws out of the hands of the Internal Revenue Service.

So if you see politicians holding forth on those scandals, be sure to check out whether they’d be willing to end those abuses for good. If not, you’ve found yourself someone who’d rather squawk than walk the talk.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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