The writer, of Omaha, was a Douglas County election commissioner and ran unsuccessfully for Nebraska’s 2nd District congressional seat in 1976.
The founder of the Democratic Party and our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, once said that, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
So, as a former newsman, I find it deeply troubling that today’s Democratic president has taken to such tactics as subpoenaing the phone records of reporters who, under the First Amendment, have the constitutional right to cover the news without infringement.
As a retired journalist-turned-avid golfer, I feel there are two principles that must be adhered to: honesty and integrity. Whether in journalism or golf, you can’t have one without the other. And if you lack one or the other, you won’t be successful because eventually you’ll get caught.
The same can be said of our nation’s leaders. And that’s what we’re seeing with the steady stream of news coming out of Washington that the Obama administration has targeted reporters. Is it for retribution, or are they really trying to get to the truth of a leak that put our national security at risk?
A trip down memory lane will show that this president and his administration have no qualms about revealing sensitive classified information for political gain. Shortly after the heroic raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration was more than happy to walk Hollywood filmmakers through classified documents to help with the narrative of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”
In 2007, in response to the indictment and subsequent incarceration of then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller, someone who chose not to reveal her sources, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted for the Free Flow of Information Act, which was a federal shield law protecting the rights of journalists and their sources.
In 2009, President Obama became the first sitting president to endorse a federal shield law. As a former journalist, I find these positions admirable because a free press plays such a key role in making sure that our nation’s leaders are held accountable for the decisions they make every day on our behalf.
So it’s troubling that the Obama administration would suddenly shift its position on the laws it has previously supported and go to such great lengths to subpoena phone records of as many as 100 Associated Press reporters and their editors in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn.
As someone who spent a career around newsrooms, I can claim quite confidently that there were not 100 different Associated Press reporters assigned to cover the May 2012 story that unveiled a terror plot in which Islamist extremists were planning to bomb a plane bound for the United States. This action by the Obama administration leads to many more questions than it does answers.
If there is a true national security threat that has been leaked, subpoenas of the phone records of Associated Press reporters might have some merit. But merely reporting that a terror plot was interrupted does not fit into this category.
The troubling subpoenas aren’t the only bad news coming out of the Beltway. There are government whistleblowers exposing a potential cover-up of Benghazi, and there’s the admission of a top IRS official that the agency was misusing the trust of the American taxpayers by bullying conservative organizations.
The president seems to be using his executive powers to punish his political enemies. Maybe that’s not the case, but these are questions many Americans have, including those in the media, and this is exactly why freedom of the press is so important.
The media have done a good job bringing transparency to this administration in recent weeks, but are they being punished, too? Well known is this president’s contempt for the media and the White House Press Office’s tirades toward reporters who dare cross it. Just ask Bob Woodward.
So the big question here is: How far does this go? Did the administration tap the phones of reporters? Are there other news organizations that this administration targeted? If so, for what purpose is this information being used? These are precisely the type of questions our constitutionally protected free press has the right to ask of its government.
The New York Times recently editorialized that it will not be intimidated in seeking the truth. That’s a good thing, because the public has a right to a full and transparent view of our nation’s government and its leaders.
I write this not just to support journalism in America but more so to support our Constitution, which the Obama administration has disregarded and dismantled often.
Thomas Jefferson was right, and this administration is proving it: You can’t have liberty without a free press.