Monday, August 19, 2013

All Rant, No Raves: Opinion – Threats Against Journalists

Congress, reluctantly, it seems, is taking up shield law legislation — that is putting in place protection for the media that allows reporters to protect their sources and ward off such charges as “espionage “if they reveal information the government believes is secret. The U.S. Constitution provides for broad interpretations of free speech, but also identifies the media as having a special role in the checks and balances system to guard against a government or branch of government that over reaches its charge.

If the Bernard Manning debacle didn’t alert us to the problems of making just about anything the government does secret — putting the powerful beyond anyone’s reach — then the Edward Snowden affair has put the issue on the front burner.

His vilification is a lesser issue than the threat it poses to press freedom, or, if you like free speech.  His case will be resolved, one way or another.  But what about other whistleblowers? And what about the reporters who see to it someone hears the whistle?

According to a story in The New York Times and a post in the The Huffington Post and as recently as Saturday, friends and associates of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who is the primary teller of Snowden’s adventures, have been hassled — detained and interrogated. Saturday, agents invaded Greenwald’ personal life.  The reporter’s partner of several years was stopped at a London airport, kept there for six hours, and had his personal belongings confiscated. All this is being justified, say reports, under various terrorist laws.

Talk about the chilling effect on reporting the news honestly. Worse, one of Greenwald’s professional cohorts, as reported in this last weekend’s Times Magazine, is a victim of government harassment. Laura Poitras is an investigative journalist who makes documentaries often scrutinizing government power. As such, Laura Poitras has been subject to the kind of secret agency intrusion one expects to find only in the movies like The Bourne Identity.  People who made themselves available for on-screen interviews for her film were hassled as well, some even more harshly.  Agents broke into a former NSA official’s home, guns drawn on him, his wife, and children. He wasn’t charged, but his computer and other items were confiscated.

Yet there is debate about providing a shield law for reporters, many of whom go up against the mightiest security forces in the world to make sure we know what’s really going on.  But even those politicians who pretend to want freedom of the press really only want to preserve its sacred appearance.  They are more interested in their own status, their own shield of secrecy.  Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein knows she cannot be against it, but cannot bring herself to fully support freedom of the press either.

Laura Poitras, Documentary-Maker — Shoestring?
A real reporter, declared Feinstein during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, is “a salaried agent” of a media company like the New York Times or ABC News, not a “shoestring operation with volunteers and writers who are not paid.”

The sheer snobbery of the extremely wealthy Senator’s remarks should be enough to provoke outrage for those who believe in freedom of speech and the importance of an informed electorate.  But the comment is even more telling.  This is the same mental contortion that led to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  Money is speech, they said.  The more money you have the more speech you are entitled to, it appears.  Mega-Media corporations like The New York Times and ABC News have significantly more rights than some poor “shoestring” operation. And Feinstein wants to protect the powerful, not the people who need the protection.  Very clever and very cynical.  Damn those volunteers.

Shouldn’t we be more worried about the corporate ownership of our representatives — Senator Feinstein, are you listening? — than a dedicated reporter of an obscure blog spilling information that embarrasses our bureaucrats?  In fact, powerful media are much less likely to need a shield law than altruistic truth-sayer — volunteers possibly.

By the way, the only one caught lying in this whole affair is the head of NSA.  He lied to Congress without consequence.

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