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Media Matters Offers Odd Apologetic For Press Spying

During the Bush years Media Matters offered some of the most insightful and well-researched critiques of the executive branch produced. Now that a Democrat is in the White House the tune has changed and none more so than on executive branch abuses of power.

Today, Media Matters offered a dishonest apologetic masquerading as a condemnation of two reported incidents of the Obama Administration attacking journalists.

The piece begins on a promising note.

Of course, the recent Obama administration controversies surrounding freedom of the press revolve around national security and the intense prosecutorial efforts by the government to weed out leakers of classified information. Rather than trying to stop journalists from reporting national security news, federal law enforcement seems preoccupied with snooping around, in increasingly clandestine ways, and ensnaring reporters in criminal investigations.

Whether it was the Department of Justice’s wild overreach in seizing phone records of more than 20 separate telephone lines used by Associated Press editors and reporters, or the Department’s more focused, yet even more troubling, information grab of a Fox News reporter, the practice is wrong and shortsighted. It’s also un-American.

Sounds great. This is the Media Matters I remember – clear prose with a well-sourced and argued position.

Then something else starts to creep in.

Yet it’s also important to note that despite some of the heated rhetoric in recent days, there’s little evidence that the federal government is waging some sort of all-out war on journalism (that it’s “spying” on reporters), or that it’s set out a dangerous new policy to “criminalize” the craft.

But wait, weren’t the Justice Department’s actions just described as un-American or against our values of believing in a free press? What’s the difference between “information grabbing” and spying? And by the way, tracking James Rosen via a badge, a tactic the government has yet to say it won’t use/isn’t using on other reporters, seems like “spying” to me.

Media Matters, while condemning the government’s actions against AP and Rosen, seems content to completely ignore the broader implications. It is as if the actions occurred in a vacuum devoid of a larger context. A practice, ironically, Media Matters constantly cites conservative media for engaging in. These actions by the Obama Administration are not isolated incidents – they are part of a larger context which Media Matters should know, and worse, probably does.

Then comes a truly strange argument.

But also note that Rosen being unaware the FBI grabbed his emails was, in weird way, reassuring. It’s reassuring because despite the alarming wording of the warrant request (“abettor and/or co-conspirator”), no charges were ever brought against Rosen, and according to the FBI none are expected to be forthcoming.

We should be “reassured” that the Justice Department misled a judge to get a warrant? Or that the Justice Department tried to find a way to prosecute a journalist but could not? Media Matters wants the Obama Administration to have it both ways.

Media Matters’ attempt to hijack the public’s outrage over the Obama Administration’s attack on journalism and channel it into a more partisan-friendly frame is shameful. Our First Amendment hangs in the balance of these cases and determining whether or not they will become precedent will be decided now influenced by how the public and their representatives react to them. Pretending these are isolated incidents to soften the blow on the Obama Administration is wrong and damaging to informing the public about what is really going on with their government. Media does matter.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.