First: the intention and focus of this letter to you: Attorney-General Holder and the Department of Justice have carried out a far worse violation of the Constitution by attacking freedom of the press in the AP case than anything the IRS did in dealing with applicants for tax-exempt status.
Just as the President fired the top IRS official, he should now fire Attorney-General Holder and take related steps to protect honorable whistle-blowers and the free press.
Here is where you can sign a petition to the President to do just that:
(And please forward this letter to your friends and coworkers.)
Second: Before I pursue the thinking behind this, let me explain why I feel strongly about this issue:
One way I understand myself is that I am among a new and growing breed of on-line journalists in the way I edit this Shalom Report and our Website, often addressing public policy through eyes of Torah and my understanding of the Spirit. The notion that the US government would dare do to a venerable press institution what it did to the AP made me swallow twice, imagining some now or future FBI rummaging through my phone logs.
And this reaction is rooted not in fantasy but in history: Forty years ago, I was one of nine anti-war and anti-racism activists in Washington DC who sued the the FBI for in fact not only tapping our phones but stealing our mail, forging letters that purported to be from us, etc. We not only sued but won, and our victory was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeals.
So I feel a strong personal revulsion at this Justice Department action.
Attorney-General Holder falsely justified the sweeping scoop-up of AP phone records by saying that the leak to the Associated Press had “put the American people at risk.” Indeed, the AP had held the story up until the CIA had agreed there was no longer any danger to national security if it were published.
At that point, the White House wanted it delayed one more day – so the President could the very next day announce the foiled plot himself. The AP story, as befits independent journalism, pointed out that though the bomb plot was foiled, its existence called into question pre-election White House assertions that Al Qaeda had been destroyed by the assassination of Bin Laden. The White House wanted to put its own spin on the story. The AP, which had been careful not to jeopardize lives or national security, refused to hold the story longer to fit into a self-serving White House purpose.
The Justice Department sweep-up of AP phone logs was calculated to frighten the AP – which didn’t scare so easily. So was DOJ’s ignoring requirements that the press be notified if such surveillance were being contemplated.
This incident is not the first, but it is the worst, example of Justice Department attacks on the press and whistle-blowers who have gone public on events the Administration wanted to hush up.
As reporters for Moyers and Company have pointed out, the Obama administration has been carrying out an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers.The Espionage Act, enacted in 1917 during World War I to punish Americans who aided the enemy, until 2009 had only been used three times in its history to try government officials accused of leaking classified information. Three prosecutions in almost 90 years!
— But since 2009, in four short years, the Obama administration has used the act to prosecute six government officials. Most of them revealed egregious violations of the Constitution like warrantless wiretaps.
It is crucial to democracy for whistle-blowers to be able to let the press and through them the American people know when their government is out of line. Charging them with crimes undermines democracy. Journalists — whether they are reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer or the editor of an on-line blog, like me – are bound to swallow twice when they realize what the Justice Department did to the Associated Press.
Why has the Obama Administration done this, after promising the “most open government in history”? There are many occasions when this Administration, like most others, has deferred to the Modern Pharaohs of top-down unaccountable power – Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Pharma, Big Army, Big Banking – rather than to the needs of the people:
Modern Pharaohs got the Obama Administration to dump provisions for a “public option” in the Obamacare bill, rather than fight for it, greatly strengthen the bill, and energize its public supporters. (And whistle-blowers reported the secret White House meetings with Big Pharma and Big Unsurance companies.)
Modern Pharaohs got the Obama government to issue permits to penetrate miles deep into the oceans in seeking oil, even when the same companies had already proved irresponsible and unsafe. (And whistle-blowers let us know that Big Oil had been buying its “regulators” with sex-for-hire.)
Modern Pharaohs insisted the Obama Administration escalate a useless, multi-destructive war in Afghanistan when it could have saved American and Afghan lives and hundreds of billions of dollars needed at home.
Modern Pharaohs have convinced the Obama government to unconscionably weaken and delay regulations intended to oversee “derivatives” trading, even after the economic catastrophe these fraudulent trades brought on;
Modern Pharaohs got the Obama Administration to accept that a temporary budget deficit and paying salaries for teachers and firefighters were a worse danger than massive long-term disemployment that has impoverished much of the middle class and made homeless the struggling poor.
These policies can only be defended by secrecy, and secrecy can only be defended by imprisoning honorable people who speak out.
The President could now boldly commit himself and the Justice Department to a real policy of Open Democracy by firing Attorney-General Holder, ordering the Justice Department to destroy all the AP records it grabbed, and dropping all Espionage Law cases against whistle-blowers.
Without this, we may see many more secretive actions that undermine steps toward protecting us from terrorists, toward healing our planet, and toward the needs of social justice for the middle class and the poor. So this is no mere “procedural” matter: it affects us, our children, and their children because it helps shape whether our government pays attention to the real needs of real people.
Please call on the President to put some real teeth into his commitment to the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press by signing this petition:
Once you’ve done that, please help The Shalom Center keep challenging dishonest, truth-withholding government no matter what political party does it. Please make a (tax-deductible) donation by clicking on the green “donate” banner to the left.
For background on the AP issue and the Espionage Law cases, click to