Shouldn’t the news media fret over criminalizing the flow of important information?

In recent weeks, the gleaming Digital Age has been flipped over, exposing a dank underbelly of post-9/11 secrecy and surveillance reminiscent of a mid-20th Century police state, and implicating not just government but Silicon Valley too in harvesting and misusing information.

I’m curious about where the news media fit into all this. After all, in our political culture the news media have responsibilities that go well beyond reporting the news.

They historically have played much broader civic roles in the realm of information—as advocate of expressive liberties, servant of the public’s need to be well informed, skeptic when the powerful use secrecy against accountability, protector of the rights of the powerless who don’t want information about themselves looted.

Are the media playing such lofty roles now? That depends. Sometimes they sound like First Amendment zealots:

In May, when the Associated Press learned the government had secretly seized records from more than 20 phone lines used by reporters, AP chief Gary Pruitt denounced the action as “a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights… ”

That same month, when a Fox News reporter was targeted as a possible “co-conspirator” with a former source—an ex-State Department contractor charged with leaking government fears about North Korean nuclear plans—Fox boss Roger Ailes deplored “a climate of press intimidation, unseen since the McCarthy era…”

Chagrined, the White House dusted off its 2009 press shield bill, which would provide some cover for journalists to defy pressure to identify confidential sources, and indicated the time might be right to pass it.

In those cases, the lines seemed clear, with the press firmly on the side of ferreting out the news and publishing it, championing informational liberty.

But elsewhere little is clear. Whose side are the news media really on when it comes to demanding a reasonably unfettered flow of publicly significant information?

The absence of sustained coverage of the half-dozen felony prosecutions of news Continue reading “Shouldn’t the news media fret over criminalizing the flow of important information?”