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AP Scandal: The Chilling Effect It Will Have on Journalists Who Were Already Working in Chilly Environment

In continuing coverage and discussion of the Justice Department’s seizure of AP records and the implications this has on freedom of the press, I went on “The Marc Steiner Show” on WEAA on Friday.

Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor in the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, and Jordan Bloom, associated editor of The American Conservative, were also on the program during the segment. [Listen to the discussion here. Conversation begins at the 32:00 mark.]

Steiner said, “We’re talking about going after the press, going after America’s right to know. This is nothing that anybody at the AP that exposed anything in Yemen that was not about to become public knowledge or interfere with our operations. We’re talking about someone trying to do investigative reporting to find out what’s going on. That’s what’s so frightening.”

The point was made by Rottman that this is not just about protecting the press but rather protecting the First Amendment. “It’s about us and it’s about our ability to know what the government is doing. And that’s especially important in national security cases where the government has vast authority to keep what it’s doing secret.”

He described the chilling effect the seizure could have on reporting:

…Reporters are going to be wary of giving sources assurances of confidentiality because they know they can’t keep that promise because the government is going to break it. Sources are going to be wary of even taking phone calls from the press because they know that if they even get the phone call it’s quite possible they’ll show up on the phone records that are seized by the Department of Justice in a leak investigation. Reporters are not going to be able to rely on telephones to do their jobs…

Reporters may have to use “burners”—throwaway telephones when communicating with sources—just like drug dealers.

“This is actually sort of a problem with the classification as a whole. Leaks are vilified by folks in Congress and the [Obama] administration,” Bloom added. “But, when it comes down to it, there’s really no incentive for the administration to classify information and so all kinds of stuff that really shouldn’t be classified and is absolutely in the public interest gets classified. So, these leaks are a part of the news media trying to do it’s job and fill its function in our democracy and under our Constitution in the face of this broken classification system.” [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."