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WSJ: Obama Media Shield Plan 'Narrows First Amendment Protections'

Image: WSJ: Obama Media Shield Plan 'Narrows First Amendment Protections'

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 11:35 AM

By Dan Weil

President Barack Obama's proposal for a media-shield law in the wake of the Justice Department phone-record seizures raises nothing but suspicions, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial.

"The drafts of these proposals include national-security exceptions that probably wouldn't have protected Rosen," Journal editors write.

James Rosen is a Fox News reporter who was named as a co-conspirator by the Justice Department in an espionage case in order to obtain his phone and email records.

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"Any such law that lets government define who is a practicing journalist, and thus deserving of a 'shield,' narrows First Amendment protections, which apply to all Americans. Down that road is government media licensing," the editorial says.

The Obama administration's handling of its email and phone-record search of Rosen shows executive overreach, the editorial says.

Obama announced last week that "journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," the editorial reports. "That's a relief, but that message doesn't seem to have filtered down to his appointees who accused James Rosen of criminal behavior for doing his job."

There are several huge problems at work with the administration's actions, the editorial says.

First, "the dangerous ignorance here about journalism and the First Amendment is astounding," Journal editors write. "The implication is that if reporters sit at their desks and wait for the mail to deliver secrets, that's fine. But that almost never happens."

And there are bigger dangers if the "government can define what are legal reporting practices. How much active reporting qualifies as illegal solicitation? Is it one phone call and lunch, or five calls, three emails and a fancy dinner?" the editorial states.

"The day that prosecutors and FBI agents get to define what is illegal reporting is the day the First Amendment dies."

If government officials have that kind of control, they'll likely just go after reporters who are most critical of administration policies, the editorial says.



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