By Erin Drushel

[avatar user=”ErinDrushel” size=”thumbnail” align=”left”]Erin Drushel[/avatar]It was revealed last week that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) secretly subpoenaed and seized some phone records of the Associated Press (AP) as part of a leak investigation in 2012.  The DOJ claims that the leak put national security at risk.  What that risk was is not entirely clear.  There are reports that it may relate to an averted terror plot to blow up a US-bound plane. No matter what the specifics, the AP is outraged by the seizure of these phone records and perceives this as an intrusive attack on the press.

Understandably, most media outlets are discussing how this so-called “scandal” is affecting the Obama administration.  However, there is a bigger picture worth examining.

I believe in freedom of the press, but I also believe that with that freedom comes grave responsibility and accountability.  National security is a tricky business that – when shared too liberally – has the potential to put lives at risk.

Do we have the right to know what our government is doing?  YES.  However, if my knowing something puts someone else’s life in danger, do I really want to know?  It’s an inescapably tough question because that consequence should be too great.  So how do we stay informed and protect the lives of those who are trying to protect us?

There is no clear-cut answer.  It’s an ongoing balancing act between the needs of the government to protect us, the needs of the media to inform us, and our need to be informed and protected.  Government will tend to be more cautious because protecting the nation is their responsibility and they will be blamed if something goes wrong.  The media will tend to share stories openly because that is their job; keeping us informed.

This balancing act is fraught with problems for potential abuse, especially when personal gain becomes more important than moral sense.  Both government and the media can fall victim to this problem: government – when trying to hide embarrassing stories; and media – when they are more concerned with “being first” to break a story and share it without having all of the facts.

Ultimately, we need a free press to help keep government accountable.  But even so, with political bias in the media you can’t take anything at face-value.  A pet peeve of mine is reading news articles where almost every quote is from an anonymous source “not authorized to speak on behalf of the government.”  That is not responsible journalism…anybody can make anything up.  If I don’t know who said it, it’s not credible or confirmed.  Leaks are a form of manipulation; so please, don’t insult my intelligence.

In this particular case it’s easy to vilify the government and accuse them of going too far, but we need to remember that both sides must be held to account.

Did the DOJ over-reach its authority during its leak investigation and infringe upon the first amendment rights of the press?  And, did the press put lives in danger by publishing their story?  Short answer: it’s complicated.  But both of these questions need to be answered.

We as the public also have a responsibility.  We can’t ask the first question and simply ignore the second.  That would be irresponsible.

– Erin Drushel

1 Comment

  1. "Treebeard" May 23, 2013at12:03 am

    I agree that safety vs. freedom is a minefield fraught with hazards. But I look back to an earlier period in my lifetime…

    Remember D-Day? Remember more to the point the level of secrecy that was achieved? Even when they were staring down the main batteries of our battleships the Nazis were not convinced that there could possibly be an invasion happening in that time, in that place. All their spies and “intel” had never yielded a single credible clue.

    Yet from Resistance fighters in the occupied territories, to every swabbie and dogface who understood (as most did, and if not their buddies explained) what their orders meant, not one talked – at least in any way that the enemy heard. Plain ordinary workers, essentially, knew what was at stake and acted responsibly. Their leaders knew that they would and trusted them to do so.

    Consider the Manhattan Project. A story never told is that the science community were well aware of the potential of an atomic bomb, and if they weren’t recruited for it themselves knew their friends who were. The science fiction writing community especially was having a great time with it – and few younger, more rebellious bunches of self-righteous adolescents have ever been seen. But they were quietly visited by FBI agents who told them of the issues at stake and appealed to their patriotism. Not a single additional word about anything atomic appeared in print till after Hiroshima.

    It’s easy to say “we can’t let THEM find out – and often that will be good judgment. It’s easy to say “THEY are everywhere” – and far too often, THEY are.

    But – ordinary citizens know this.They have a pretty good sense of when it’s OK to say something and when it’s time to shut up. And when presented with a credible request in the national interest, they will not only cooperate but try to make an additional constructive contribution when they can – volunteering that key fact or observation they have made. It’s the American Way.

    Across this continent there are malefactors in our midst who wish us nought but ill. We know that. We know that sometimes we’ll need advice on what’s safe and what isn’t, what we can safely say where and when and what we can’t. And we will listen to that advice.

    But there are now too many paranoids in high places, who do not trust the good faith of the people or their good judgment. And the more this becomes apparent, the less the governed are inclined to trust them.

    It’s time ti trust the judgment and loyalty of those who put our governors in office. Yes, by all means explain the hazards and the pitfalls that we face in security matters. But then work with the willing and the able and the trustworthy in a fair and open manner.

    Because the more often I catch you snooping around on my turf, the less I am going to trust you, and the sooner I will come to shooting first and asking questions later. And all of us will be no better for it.