The buffer zone between freedom of the press and federal jurisdiction has been a delicate issue, often setting the precedent for government transparency, civil rights advocacy and the ability of average citizens to engage in the democratic process.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s controversial seizure of Associated Press (AP) phone records under the premise of “national security” highlights an alarming trend in executive privilege and its increasingly ambiguous ability to deter mine what can and cannot be subject to the due process of law.
According to bylaws, during a criminal investigation, prior to the issuance of subpoenas to news organizations, the Justice Department must exhaust all possible sources of information before entering into negotiations to determine a “narrowest” possible criteria for the release of journalistic records. The executive body conducting the investigation must make a reason able appeal to the organization to justify the intrusion.
The AP was made aware of the subpoenas only after a wide array of call and fax records from 20 lines used by more than 100 journalists were obtained from major AP offices. It is speculated that the investigation stems from a May 2012 AP report, which revealed a foiled al-Qaida terror plot that sought to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to comment on “ongoing criminal investigation” during a congressional hearing lends credence to AP’s grievances of the investigation’s unprecedented overreach of authority, which knowingly disregarded constitutional rights to press freedoms and protected news organizations against unwarranted search and seizures.
The federal government’s refusal to notify the AP is merely an extension of the eroding regard the current administration has for journalistic integrity and the rule of law. According to the AP, since 2008,
the Obama cabinet has issued six court cases against individuals that allegedly leaked classified information to the media, more than any other president in U.S. history.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the U.S. government has operated on an increasingly diluted criteria to justify its actions in wiretaps, civilian surveillance, and suppression of information. These tactics have amounted to visible violations of the one of the basic tenets of a democracy: freedom of the press.
A slight variation in the press’s ability to report factual and pertinent information regarding all matters of state, domestic and international, can reflect a change in the political environment of the country. The government’s flagrant intrusion into the private dealings of an esteemed news organization could establish declining standards which, if not constitution- ally challenged, could repress a visibly constrained press corps.