Pressing for Freedom

On May 13, the Associated Press announced that the Department of Justice obtained and seized two month’s worth of telephone records of more than 20 separate phone lines that were utilized by over 100 AP journalists between April and May of 2012. Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that James Rosen, a Fox News reporter, was under email and phone surveillance after the Justice Department suspected that he was given classified information from a source in the State Department on North Korea’s nuclear program in 2009.
Reflect on the First Amendment of our Constitution: our right to free speech, the right to partake in whatever religion we choose, our right to assemble in protest and our right to grumble about the government. By “our,” I mostly mean every United States citizen, but also as a moniker to represent the pool of journalists and reporters that are considered the “press.”
As a member of this group, I wouldn’t say that I rank too far up on the chain.
I’m the features editor for a small campus newspaper mostly read by students, faculty and a few members of the Irvine community. I have never reported from Capitol Hill or even Irvine’s City Hall. I mostly stick to writing food reviews and profiles, which will probably not be seen by a government official, whether local or federal. Nonetheless, the latest intrusion into our rights is a bothersome one.
As a journalist, I value the right to publish what I want. I work hard to verify that my facts are correct, my sources are reliable and veritable and that I’m objective in the reporting that I do. There is no doubt in my mind that the respected news organizations do the same, if not more.
According to the Justice Department, the infringement on the press’s first amendment right was done in an attempt to protect the American people. My biggest offense to this is the government’s idea that protecting the American people goes hand in hand with restricting the information that is shared with them.
Another element to this story on government and press relations is the government’s request to delay a May 2012 story on a foiled airliner bomb in Yemen that was successfully hindered by the CIA.
The AP delayed the story at the government’s request and ended up publishing the report on May 17, nearly three weeks after the operation in Yemen occurred.
This presents yet another problem. As journalists and reporters, our job is to communicate the news in a timely manner. If we delay news, can we consider it news anymore? Our job is to report the news, not protect the people. If the government is doing a good enough job protecting us, then they don’t need to be involved or serve as a hindrance to our job.
The government was created with a system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. The freedom of the press was ensured in order to facilitate the continuous flow of information between our government and the people.
To avoid a Big Brother-esque environment that was characterized in George Orwell’s “1984” the government must allow us to do our jobs without making us fear about what may happen to our sources and us.
Without a free and trusted flow of information, how are we supposed to know about the indiscretions of the government and their mistakes? Their absorption of power would go unnoticed, if not checked and shared by the seasoned reporters doing their jobs.
The government’s breach on our First Amendment rights have already scared, or will scare, current confidential sources that these respected and established news organizations communicate with.
In a recent interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, the CEO and President of the Associated Press, Gary Pruitt, stated that the Justice Department’s actions have already been taken into consideration by the AP’s once open sources.
“We are already seeing some impact. Already officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of news gathering are already saying to us that they are a little reluctant to talk to us. They fear that they will be monitored by the government. We are already seeing that. It’s not hypothetical,” Pruitt noted.
Instead of focusing on the journalists and news organizations that report the news, find those in and around the government who are wagging their tongues and releasing the classified information in the first place. We, the press, shouldn’t be the ones getting in trouble for sharing secrets, put a little more effort into keeping your secrets a secret.

Logan Payne is a fourth-year literary journalism and film & media studies double major. She can be reached at lpayne@uci.edu