January 20, 1993, was a memorable day. It was the day of Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, and he was the first Democrat to win the presidency since Jimmy Carter’s ill-fated, single post-Watergate term in office. My parents, FDR-style Democrats who survived the Great Depression and fought World War II, had begun to think they wouldn’t…
I suppose it’s not too surprising that journalists get upset when they become embroiled in criminal investigations. And, truth be told, I don’t blame them. I expect people to protect their own interests, especially when the government comes knocking on their door. Still, it’s interesting to see what gets the media’s goat and what doesn’t.
By now, we’re all well aware of the Obama Administration’s recent actions against the Associated Press and Fox News’ James Rosen. The past few days the media has been equally up in arms about both, although in the case of the AP phone records subpoena, there are, in fact, no real First Amendment issues at stake. To his credit, Walter Pincus has a thorough and refreshingly non-hysterical take on the AP matter in Tuesday’s Washington Post. With regard to Fox News’ Rosen, this piece–also from the Washington Post–captures the breathless nature with which most news outlets covered it:
Journalists, First Amendment watchdogs and government transparency advocates reacted with outrage Monday to the revelation that the Justice Department had investigated the newsgathering activities of a Fox News reporter as a potential crime in a probe of classified leaks.
Critics said the government’s suggestion that James Rosen, Fox News’s chief Washington correspondent, was a “co-conspirator” for soliciting classified information threatened to criminalize press freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Others also suggested that the Justice Department’s claim in pursuing an alleged leak from the State Department was little more than pretext to seize his e-mails to build their case against the suspected leaker.
It’s important to understand that Rosen has not been charged with a crime; instead, he was identified as a “co-conspirator” in an affidavit filed in a criminal case against Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department advisor who’s accused of passing classified information about North Korea to Rosen in 2009. The government claims that Rosen essentially cajoled Kim in an effort to get sensitive information that Kim was not legally permitted to give Rosen.
But again, Rosen has not been charged with a crime. For all the howling emanating from the media over the past few days, you might not know that.
Nonetheless, I can see where media folks might be a little on edge, what with the AP subpoenas and Rosen being named a “co-conspirator” all within a relatively short span.
However, I note by way of comparison that the media’s a lot less worked up about this case (via PoliticusUSA):
While she continues to call for President Obama to be impeached, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is being investigated by the FBI for campaign finance violations.
According to the MinnPost, the FBI has joined the growing list of agencies that are investigating campaign violations associated with Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign, “Andy Parrish, former Bachmann chief of staff and one of the directors of Bachmann’s Iowa GOP presidential campaign, will be interviewed by the FBI, according to his attorney, John Gilmore. ‘I can confirm that Andy Parrish has been contacted by the FBI for a scheduled interview next week,” Gilmore said. ‘He will cooperate fully.’”
The entry of the FBI signals that the investigation has expanded into a potential criminal probe of Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign. It is important to note that being investigated for a crime is not the same thing as being charged or convicted of a crime, but with Bachmann herself being the focus of other investigations, the FBI will likely be taking a look at her role in the campaign’s decision-making process.
Interesting. The FBI is investigating one of Pres. Obama’s chief political rivals–a woman who ran for the opposition party’s presidential nomination, and who remains a member of Congress and is making noise about impeachment. Personally, I don’t believe for a moment that there are any political shenanigans underlying the FBI’s investigation of her campaign, but still. If anyone in the media has so much as raised a question whether the Bachmann investigation is politically motivated, I haven’t seen it.
And this is par for the course. When a politician is the subject of a criminal investigation, the media never ask whether something’s rotten with the investigation itself; instead, they usually assume the politician is guilty until proven innocent. Here in Illinois, U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee, prosecuted several prominent Democratic politicians, including former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago City Clerk James Laski. Yet no one in the media ever questioned the propriety of those cases, even though Fitzgerald is a Republican (and even though he may have pulled back the reins when, as Special Prosecutor, he investigated the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame . . . cough–Dick Cheney–cough, cough.)
So, it’s weird, isn’t it, what the media classifies as a scandal and what it doesn’t? In a way, all of these cases–the AP phone records subpoena, identifying Rosen as a “co-conspirator,” investigating a political rival like Bachmann–come down to the same thing: A difference of opinion about the law. In each case, the Administration interprets the law one way, its opponents another. And there’s nothing altogether unusual about presidents taking legal positions to which other people disagree. The Bush Administration did it regularly (“preventative war” with Iraq; denying that the Geneva Conventions applied to detainees; and redefining torture, to name just three). The media may have spilled an awful lot of journalistic ink over those legal disagreements–but they weren’t “scandals.”
No, legal disputes only become “scandals” when media figures are involved, because guess who gets to define the term “scandal”? No conflict of interest there, though. Just ask the media.