Love Thine Enemy: James Rosen v. The DoJ
It’s easy to hate James Rosen. As one of the merchants of bullshit over at Fox News’ stuffed-shirt, good ol’ boy White House press club, he’s been working to dismantle the Obama Administration one ‘scandal’ at a time for ages now. Being that nobody likes second-term sore losers, it’s only natural not to feel too sorry for the guy now that he’s being investigated by the Department Of Justice over classified information he published back in 2009, right? After all, not only did he needlessly gin up controversy over North Korean antagonism in order to feed the war machine, but he blew one of our sources in the process. Not only is he a fearmonger, he’s an inept one. He probably deserves whatever he gets, right?
Perhaps. All the same, problematic though he might be, James Rosen is no criminal. The only thing more problematic than Rosen himself is the fact that he’s being investigated as one. Enter Glenn Greenwald:
…what makes this revelation particularly disturbing is that the DOJ, in order to get this search warrant, insisted that not only (Stephen) Kim, but also Rosen – the journalist – committed serious crimes. The DOJ specifically argued that by encouraging his source to disclose classified information – something investigative journalists do every day – Rosen himself broke the law … Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret.
In his zealous defense of civil liberties, Glenn Greenwald falls down the “Obama is worse than Hitler” rabbit hole a little too much for my taste, but he does raise a very good point here: as much as they might like to, the DoJ can’t prosecute Rosen. While his actions may have been unethical, they certainly weren’t illegal. But that begs the question whether prosecution is even the point.
When you take a step back and look at the situation, it’s easy to see that Rosen is clearly being made an example of. He got egg on Obama’s face and blew a source at the same time. Walking away unscathed was not an option. Nor was it an option for Wikileaks, or for Jim Risen of the New York Times. Cue Mr. Greenwald once again:
This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ – that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for “soliciting” the disclosure of classified information – is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself.
President Obama has done a remarkable job in his tenure as president of making it appear as if many of of the actions he is taking – particularly on issues civil liberty – are things that are just sort of happening around him, without either his knowledge, or his consent. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that his administration has classified around seven million documents in the past year or so, and prosecuted more whistleblowers for espionage in his two terms as president than all of his predecessors combined. This unprecedented crackdown on the flow of state secrets has enabled President Obama to distance himself from many of the actions of his administration, leaving him free to pine away for better tomorrows in meaningful, yet ambiguous speeches about foreign policy and counterterrorism that somehow tell everyone precisely what they wish to hear. Clearly, there’s quite a bit that they don’t want you to hear, not until they’ve been able to analyze and sanitize it first.
Former Pentagon Papers Attorney James Goodale critiques Obama’s security policy on Democracy Now!
President Obama seems like a genuinely good man, but one who seems a little too convinced of his innate goodness. Becoming president without first embodying a certain degree of hubris is an impossible task, and as the Executive Branch continues to offer greater and more seductive powers with which to shape and change the world, the level of hubris required to assume the mantle of the presidency has also become greater, and more seductive. I believe our president believes he is doing the right thing when it comes to the national security and foreign policy; after all, isn’t it what Eisenhower would have done? Obama inherited a nation still at war, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Now that those wars are finally scaling down, there are plenty of messes to clean up, many of which we made and are still making. As a nation, it’s important that we show the right amount of contrition for our past grievances from time to time, but only for the ones that we’re okay comfortable letting our own people know about. Persecuting those who release the information we’d rather keep a secret – even hacks like James Rosen, who’s popularity among more liberal-minded individuals is somewhere between nosebleeds and HPV – creates a “chilling effect” on the expression of free speech that scares whistleblowers back into hiding and leaves investigative journalists bereft of sources. Once again, Glenn Greenwald:
But for anyone who is engaged in meaningful dissent from and challenge to government officials…these prosecutions and these ever-expanding surveillance, detention and even assassination powers are inevitably intimidating. Regardless of how those powers are used or even whether they are, they will, as Risen put it, have “a chilling effect” on the exercise of core freedoms. As Risen explained in his Affidavit, even if Brian Ross’ story turned out to be false, the mere claim by anonymous officials that the phone records of journalists are being monitored — combined with threats of prison for their sources and even for reporters who are subpoenaed — means “the Government further contributed to creating an atmosphere of fear for journalists who publish stories about national security and intelligence issues.
When your government is actively working towards becoming the sole gatekeeper of information for the entire realm, it becomes all the more critical that those who fight to keep the flow of information unrestricted, though we may not approve of them or their methods, though they may be bunglers who create more problems than they solve, be defended to our utmost extent in their right to do so, lest the encroachment of Orwell’s dystopia overtake us all.
(cross-posted at Soapbox Magazine)
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