Last Monday, the Supreme Court provided invaluable aid to the Obama administration’s campaign to hide evidence of federal abuses from Americans. The court acceded to the administration’s appeal and refused to hear a free-speech case involving New York Times reporter James Risen. Mr. Risen, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has long been in the federal cross hairs since his 2006 book, “A State of War,” exposed numerous federal crimes, including the National Security Agency’s illegal warrantless wiretapping.
Mr. Obama’s Justice Department issued two subpoenas to squeeze Mr. Risen into testifying about a confidential source. The first subpoena went nowhere, and U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema quashed the second one, declaring that “a criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook.” However, her ruling was overturned on a split decision by a federal appeals court.
The Obama administration, in its brief on the case, told the Supreme Court that “reporters have no privilege to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources.” The Obama team brushes aside the fact that the most controversial press cases in recent years have involved exposes of government outrages.
Mr. Obama still periodically pirouettes as the civil liberties champion that some Americans remember from his 2008 presidential campaign. In his May 2013 national security speech at Fort McNair, Mr. Obama declared that “a free press is essential for our democracy.”
“That’s who we are,” he said. “And I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.”
Mr. Obama also announced that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. would conduct a review of recent federal crackdowns on reporters. As The New York Times noted, “Asking Mr. Holder to lead the review puts the attorney general in the awkward position of scrutinizing investigations that his department has pursued.” Actually, this is not “awkward” — Mr. Holder has built his career on whitewashing government abuses. His mastery in covering up the 1993 federal debacle at Waco, Texas, may have done much to recommend him to Mr. Obama. Mr. Holder spearheaded the investigation of The Association Press that vacuumed up “two months of records for 20 Associated Press phone lines and switchboards — used by more than 100 AP reporters in three news bureaus and the House of Representatives.”