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Assault on First Amendment needs to stop

On the heels of the Justice Department’s seizure of telephone records involving AP reporters in four bureaus, now comes the revelation the DOJ had investigated the news-related activities of Fox News reporter James Rosen in another probe of classified leaks.

Incredibly, the government suggested that Rosen was a “co-conspirator” for allegedly asking for information about a story.

When did that become a crime?

The case here involved Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department employee who is accused of giving Rosen details involving North Korea from a classified report after it had been released to others in the intelligence community.  His trial is scheduled for next year.

The Obama administration has pursued more leak investigations under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all other administrations before it. 

As part of its investigation, the Justice Department asked for and received a search warrant for Rosen’s personal emails. 

In an affidavit, the FBI said Rosen “asked, solicited and encouraged Mr. Kim to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence reports.”  It claimed that accessing Rosen’s information was critical to its investigation.

Rosen was not charged with a crime—nor is he expected to be.  And the fact is that no reporter has ever been charged in this country for seeking classified information.

But the mere fact that Rosen’s movements were tracked, his emails read and his phone records reviewed stand as more examples, according to critics, of the government’s efforts to criminalize First Amendment freedoms. These chilling developments will only serve to further drive away sources from reporters for fear their conversations are not likely to remain confidential.  In fact, the AP says that’s already begun after the phone records seizure was revealed.

The Obama administration continues to publicly tout its support for a free press and its defense of the First Amendment. At the same time, it has pursued more leak investigations under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all other administrations before it.  And, in the process, apparently sees no conflict with repeatedly involving journalists while doing so.

We understand the need to protect America’s national security.  It is the most fundamental responsibility of government. However, it is increasingly clear to us the path the government has chosen to carry out that responsibility has little regard for respecting the fundamental rights of the press.

And that’s the true shame in all of this.

Mike Cavender is executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).