Protecting the Nation and the Press

Protecting the Nation and the Press

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The American people have been caught up in the IRS scandal and the Benghazi tragedy so that there is very little focus being given to what is probably the most serious long-term outrage to have emerged in the last few months; what is being called The AP expose.  The unfortunate death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was certainly tragic and there were numerous slip-ups at the State Department which—had they been avoided—would never have permitted the diplomatic staff in Benghazi to have been left in such a precarious situation.

People made mistakes. In addition, serious errors clearly were made in how the tragedy was handled, disclosed, and represented; but there was no more a political judgment dictating how these events were handled than there is on everything that emerges in Washington.

With respect to the IRS, heads have and will continue to roll. The initiator of the policy will eventually be disclosed, but Republicans in Congress have only made this into a witch hunt because every single American knows about and resents the IRS.  This reported policy of targeting Tea Party and Patriot groups seeking tax-exempt status for special review and scrutiny is unacceptable. Like their Benghazi obsession, however, the Republicans ought to realize that taking a stand on these issues and stopping Washington from functioning will not win them many new voters in 2014 or 2016. They will be small issues come election time, especially if the economy continues to improve.

If there is a scary expose that has emerged in Washington over the past several weeks it is the Obama Administration’s scrutinizing and monitoring the telephone conversations and internet communications of media reporters and organizations who have an association with and have been linked under The AP banner.  This is all being done in the name of national security by an Administration that has been convinced–apparently following the lead of the Bush Administration–of the necessity to wage a zealous campaign against Government leakers and whistleblowers; all in the name of national security.

Not to minimize in the slightest the fact that there is an indisputable need for vigilant security, especially in the post-9/11 world, but there is likewise a very serious need that this not be achieved by imposing a gag or fear on journalists exercising their First Amendment prerogatives. In the past, journalists actually have held stories and even spiked them if they were duly apprised of the danger.  It must be the role of an independent judicial body operating 24/7—not self-interested executives—which must determine if something is or is not too hot to be publicized. They alone must decide whether there is an actual danger or whether publication will be merely food for the scavengers. Washington needs to become at least as focused on protecting the First Amendment right of a free, independent, and un-intimidated press as so many have become obsessed with the Second Amendment right bear arms.

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