Defending the First Amendment

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By Paul Gable

The Obama administration’s attack on the First Amendment took a predictable turn recently when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s use of national security concerns in justifying White House investigations of journalists.

In attempting to justify the Justice Department’s seizing of reporters’ phone records and emails, Carney said, “The president believes it’s important that we find the proper balance between the need—absolute need to protect our secrets and to prevent leaks that can jeopardize the lives of Americans and can jeopardize our national security interests on the one hand and the need for—to defend the First Amendment and protect the ability of reporters to pursue investigative journalism,”

The original attack on theFirst Amendment, with the Sedition Acts way back in 1798, made it illegal for persons to criticize the administration and/or government, even if the criticism was true. The acts were passed by the Federalist Congress in the mistaken impression that they were combating anarchy – a threat to national security.

Every time an administration comes under attack for actions against free speech and freedom of the press, the justification of national security gets thrown out as an excuse.

Sometimes the national security defense is used to avert investigations of what appear to be illegal acts by an administration. Didn’t we hear this type of excuse when Nixon told his aides to have the CIA tell the FBI to stop investigating the Watergate conspiracy because it involved national security?

There are some in Washington who are saying the Obama administration’s use of the IRS to investigate Tea Party type groups and its actions in seizing reporters’ phone records and emails are worse than Watergate.

I’m not sure it has risen to that level yet, except in the overblown rhetoric of Washington, but it appears that it could.

We have now learned that senior White House officials were aware of the IRS actions in mid-April, but chose not to tell the president about them. That sounds, and probably is, unbelievable.

The search of phone records of AP reporters has now been revealed to be much wider than first admitted to by the administration and has been called unconstitutional by AP CEO Gary Pruitt.

According to Pruitt, the AP held the story for five days at the request of the government and went ahead with it after the AP was informed national security concerns were over. However, the White House requested the AP wait one more day so it could get out the information first. When the White House got scooped by the AP, it went into national security investigation mode.

Fox News reporter James Rosen was called a possible criminal co-conspirator, in a Justice Department affidavit, for his role in reporting a story about possible 2009 North Korean nuclear tests. The information about the nuclear tests was deemed a security leak. Rosen was aggressive in questions about administration handling of the Benghazi incident.

This administration has gotten a pass from mainstream media for most of its time in office. That now appears at an end.

In a recent poll, a majority of respondents called the issues surrounding the IRS, Benghazi and the AP phone records “very important” to the nation. Defending the First Amendment is understood by the American people.  We can only hope it soon becomes important to the Obama administration.

 

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