Biden, Congress and the Free Press

Jun 07, 2021 · 147 comments
Meenal Mamdani (Quincy, Illinois)
I applaud the editorial writers for making the correct call on this subject. I was appalled to learn that Obama, for all his professorial detached analysis etc., was even worse than previous Presidents in going after whistle blowers, prosecuting more individuals than all the previous Presidents combined. The govt always trots out "security" but what they are really protecting is some big officers' rear ends. Consider the wrongdoing that has been exposed thus far by these brave souls who have risked their freedom, careers, to do so. If it were not for them, how much more wrongdoing would continue unnoticed and unpunished.
It’s not surprising that those investigating secrets are secretly being investigated. What we need is more honesty. The ability to discuss facts in an open and meaningful manner. I never felt the leaks from secret sources of back dealing in the White House served anyone well. Instead we should report on the White House’s policies and how they affect people. All that effort into digging for secrets can be used to understand and analyze the truth in front us.
DABowen (Tulsa)
The press needs to stop mindlessly repeating talking points, too easy to just repeat what the writers sees online for free. It's a trap. We all see when the reporter just throws out falsehoods to energize the conversation or enrage the politician. It can make rational conversation impossible. If leaked data is used in investigations can carry a heavy burden. As a reader and news listener I feel I can spot self serving more often than not. Sometimes though, I can also be informed by the heated response. Does the government have the right to investigate the reporters, I'd say only if a crime is required to expose the information, whistleblower laws not withstanding.
Jeremy (USA)
so there are headlines today about the private confidential tax returns illegally leaked by the IRS. who should go to jail ? the journalists and staff that published the content, the IRS employees that leaked the data, or both ?
Richard (Mexico City)
Define free press. If the PC Police do not like the narrative...they shut it up. The press happily aids them in this agenda.
Dan (Boston)
Anonymous leaks raced to publishing top get ‘first scoop’, then quietly walked back in retractions deep in the paper, should be punishable by jail time. Too often ‘journalists’ use their platform to advance their opinions as news, to the nations detriment.
Nreb (La La Land)
The Biden administration should break with Trump and Obama administration practices and stop talking to journalists. He has nothing to say!
Naples (Avalon)
@Nreb Trump had something to say?
Cody McCall (tacoma)
Attacks, many deadly, against The Fourth Estate continue apace around the world. If--and when--The Fourth Estate crumbles, democracy is over. Kaput. Dead. And, yes, it can happen here.
Jeffrey (NJ)
Is it any wonder why Snowden felt it was necessary to publish the unconstitutional actions of our government in the way he did? As they say, "Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant".
So much of this is a judgement call, and we are too often at the mercy of bad judgement. Reporters “used to know” what to report, and what not to. Just one quick example: does anyone think that JFK could have survived today’s ridiculous level of social media scrutiny? There is no good answer, but censorship is an awfully bad one.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@CP Good point, conventions have changed. But do we really want to go back to the days of privileged, private "womanizing"? It would be great if we could openly enjoy non-exploitative libertinism... we may be moving a little in that direction. But we can agree, censorship isn't the solution.
Ma (Atl)
I find it ironic that this opinion is angry about freedom of speech and the freedom of the press being at risk because of government investigations into leaks that may impact US security. First, the nytimes has published leaks in the past, some of which were completely false, without any consideration as to how it may impact not just security of the nation, but security of individual lives. Second, the nytimes celebrates any and all woke cancelations of anyone 'they' have determined is 'guilty' of racism, sexism, etc. I wasn't happy when Obama engaged in these activities, wasn't happy when he became the president famous for refusing foia requests; same for Trump. But the irony here is that it's deemed OK by the nytimes to do it to people like Trump, OK to refuse lecturers at universities, etc. because of politics, but now somehow it's not okay because it happened to the nytimes and journalists? How precious.
Citizen2013 (USA)
Trying to smoke out confidential sources while president, then subsequently, owning a production company in one's post presidency and being affiliated with Netflix, certainly signals that a politician is trying to control and craft what the public knows and does not know about his presidency and the inner workings of the US government.
Kay Johnson (Colorado)
Interesting that the emphasis here is on Biden's administration in this article. There seems to be some sort of acknowledgement from this administration that the seizing of personal information is not OK if you want to have a free press. The oddness here for me is the lack of acknowledgement of the outright attacks on reporters and the very concept of a free press itself from the Trump administration- it didn't stop magically when he lost the election. Trump basically set up a propaganda arm with Fox News and then staffed his administration from that pool. There is more press "correction" on the story of whether Trump had his britches on backwards in NC than the daily and more caustic lies about the last election. Why is there is continuing soft hands approach to the damage Trump is doing to our democracy?
Jim (Michigan)
Anyone who leaks information should be prosecuted as should any reporter who knowingly uses information from illegal leaks.
Ton van Lierop (Amsterdam)
Just last week I spent a lovely short holiday with good friends in Dresden, east Germany. Dresden is a magnificent city, and the weather was perfect, but we also found some time to discuss the state of democracy in Germany. Our friends there obviously grew up in the DDR. They were afraid that west Germans did not realize what a great gift democracy really is. They know from experience what it means to live in a totalitarian state and are afraid that people living in democracies just take democracy for granted. It needs to be defended. And to them THE most important institution to defend in order to sustain a democracy is “freedom of the press”. In their opinion, most citizens of democracies cannot imagine what it means to have a state that completely controls what information is made available to the citizenry. A truly free press is essential for a democracy.
Alex (Indiana)
The striking thing about this editorial is its hypocrisy. The New York Times is likely the most consequential opponent of a free press in the country today. The most important actions by the Times are its frequently voiced objections to the SCOTUS decision in the Citizens United case, a decision the high court issued in 2010. A conservative advocacy group wished to broadcast a video critical of Hillary Clinton near the time of a primary election, in violation of the law. The Justices held that the 1st amendment applied to corporations as well as individuals, and that the law was unconstitutional. The Times has repeatedly held that this was a dangerous ruling, which empowered corporations to influence elections. The Times is, of course, itself a corporation which very much tries to influence elections. The Times is also one of the trend-setting leaders in what's appropriately called the Cancel Culture; wherein opinions at odds with woke politics result in pillorying and job termination. Witness the dismissal by the Times of former editorial page editor James Bennett for allowing an op-ed by a conservative senator to appear in the pages of the Times. The Times is not the worst actor regarding the suppression of free expression, but given its influence it is the most consequential. The question of legal shields for reporters is complex, and feels something like a double standard. But this much is clear: regarding a free press, the Times should lead by example.
Elijah L (Cleveland, OH)
In todays cutthroat digital media landscape dominated by the creation of content and supported by ad revenue and clicks, I can see why the NYT and other media corporations support legislation that could increase the frequency of captivating headlines and breaking news. Federal legislation increasing reporter protections is especially important to the media today as headlines coming from DC have proliferated due to their tendency to be attention-grabbing, polarizing and profitable. If the media provided a fair, nuanced interpretation of government affairs, Biden’s promise could serve as a check on government power and create a more transparent relationship between government and the public. Unfortunately, we should recognize that media corporations must compete with each other for consumer attention and can choose which whistles to blow accordingly.
M Ford (USA)
The decision by the media to hang around with some pretty shady people is obviously going to bring them under some surveillance. About a week ago, the NYT reported on how they used a hacker program to connect to a ransomware site in Russian and reported on hacker messages. The liberal media writes lengthy stories about their adventures with white supremacist groups on obscure internet chat platforms. Articles about websites where child pornography, child sex industry workers and illegal activity occurs are common in the liberal media. These websites and the contacts they generate are a honeypot for law enforcement. Based on the people they choose to associate with, I would expect every liberal reporter to be on an FBI surveillance list. The recent leaks of past surveillance episodes is probably just the tip of the ice berg.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@M Ford You may well be right about reporters on FBI watch lists. But the thing is, all that hanging around on creepy dark web sites is how reporters do their jobs. Somebody has to do it: the criminals aren't going to report on their own activities. It was the same when reporters were just carrying around notebooks and pencils; they had to spend time with disreputable people, in disreputable places. At least, some of them did.
Chris (South Carolina)
And when leaks affecting national security appear in the press, is there no recourse?
Alex (Indiana)
This is not an easy call. On the one hand, shining light on the workings of the government is important. One the other hand, there are good reasons some government documents and conversations are, by law, secret. The Freedom of Information Act, and similar state laws, provide powerful tools through which the press can obtain information. It's not straightforward whether or not blanket shield laws are appropriate, and whether they would do more harm or good. For reporters working within the beltway cultivating anonymous sources with access to confidential information has become high art, or perhaps "blood sport" is a better term. Reporters use means both fair and foul. For example, a young reporter, Ali Watkins, had a long running sexual affair with a married man 31 years her senior, who was Director of Security for the Senate intelligence committee. When the relationship came to light, the presumed leaker was prosecuted; Ms. Watkins is, today, a reporter for the Times. Sometimes sources leak, and newspapers publish, confidential information to force transparency on the functioning of our government. Often, this is a good thing. But other times, leaks are motivated by political agendas of the leaker and/or the news media with which they share information. This is often not a good thing, and may interfere with the ability of government officials and workers to do their jobs. There are no clear answers, and if a law is passed, it will of necessity be complex.
Ralphie (CT)
I don't know. This is tough. Reporters have a right to print what they believe is true -- but when they print classified information, then that's not good. Imagine if someone had printed in April 1944 that on June sixth, we'd invade France at Normandy. Now, the reporter may have disagreed with that being a good idea for whatever reason -- but printing that would have been an act of treason, not an exercise of freedom of the press. We spent almost 4 years hearing from the press, with no evidence, that Trump was a Russian puppet. Then we learned, again without evidence, that Trump was at fault for all the deaths in the US from covid. Even in opinion pieces writers need to stick with demonstrable facts and not just say whatever they want to support a narrative or political position. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, freedom of speech doesn't mean you can yell fire in a crowded theater. So, freedom of the press doesn't mean you can print things that aren't backed up by some evidence (even in opinion pieces), you shouldn't be able to slander a public figure in a paper and then hide behind freedom of the press -- and you certainly shouldn't be able to leak classified info. And -- the press should probably stay out of the personal and familial relationships of politicians that aren't relevant to policy, except perhaps in extreme instances.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@Ralphie There is a long history of the press routinely conferring with the government before publishing sensitive information, delaying publication, or leaving out certain names, if lives or crucial operations are at stake. You are misinformed about "the press" reporting for four years that Trump was a Russian puppet. There were some notable episodes where he certainly seemed to defer to Putin to an odd extent, and these were reported; would you have have wanted them discretely covered up? They were demonstrable facts. Similarly, no one has said that Trump was "at fault for all the covid deaths"... but he himself was forthright and proud of denying that there was a major problem, or that serious measures should be taken... if he was showing off not wearing a mask, and hosting large events, should the press have covered that up?
Edward Brennan (Centennial Colorado)
The Editorial Board is like Republicans. They can only really manage a full throated defense of goods, when it is their own tribe at stake.
Richard (New York)
The NYT is inconsistent with its free speech stance. I think the NYT believes in their own personal freedom to deliver information to the American People but that is about as far as they go.
Alberto Abrizzi (Bay Area)
We might have not imagined a world in 2021 where the trend in government controlled media was increasing. With clarity, that line should be strongest in the USA as we witness ongoing abuses by China, Russia, Turkey and an obvious group of dictatorships and kingdoms. In Israel, a democracy, we see Netanyahu paying a price for meddling with the media. On these pages, we see constant calls to shut down Fox and turn the screws on social media. Like with any rights we have laws to enforce abuse. But politically justified abuses represents a slippery slope.
Aaron (Florida)
Neither free speech nor free press means one is free of consequences for what is said/printed. If I were the president, instead of targeting the records of the newspaper, I would simply ban the newspaper from ALL press conferences, etc. For I am under ZERO OBLIGATION to act as if they have not done a disservice to the government by printing things that cannot be substantiated. If a government is doing something ILLEGAL, that's one thing. But, at least in Trump's case, it read more like tabloid foolishness than actual news. Trump cursed at this person, Trump is thinking of firing this advisor, Trump played golf again.... Yeah, I could do with less of that and more real news. Of course, Biden, since he is not Trump, gets a much freer ride, but still he must answer such hard-charging questions as to the name of his dog, where he likes to vacation, and the such. If I were president and the NYT reported from an anonymous source that, say, my wife and I had a spat, yes, I would take punitive measures against the NYT...well, unless they wanted to let me know who gave the bit of information to the press. Presidents still have a private life, or at least they should. But even in governmental matters, there needs to be assurance that everyone around the table can talk freely, offer up out-there suggestions, etc., without being held back by knowing that someone in the room is apparently letting some "journalist" (yeah, right) in on every detail.
david (Florida)
A free press should also mean they need not follow a party line. But most all media picks a side as their niche and boy do comments get nasty if anyone goes agonist that party line. We readers must be open to alternative perspectives, or we just lose all critical thinking.
Sang Ze (Hyannis)
Biden is in the process of selling his soul. Gee, as if this couldn't have been predicted.
Naples (Avalon)
Readers feel bias emanate from those huge corporations which own the press, as we do in sources having anything to do with Rupert Murdoch and his imitators, which promulgate propaganda, and, when sued, claim to be "entertainment," not news. If FOX is allowed in daily briefings, they need to certify they are a NEWS organization, and not an ENTERTAINMENT organization—the little hideout they run to when Dominion or others call them on their lies. Make them legally declare they are a news organization, or put them in a category with Pecker's Enquirer and The Weekly World News.
Blackmamba (IL)
In our very peculiar divided limited different power constitutional republic of united states the 1st Amendment does not exist on an isolated pinnacle island mountaintop. Protecting spoken and written words can involve specific actions and actors that supersede, transcend and inextricably intertwine freedom of the press and the people. The potentially immense powers of the federal government were separated for very basic profound fearful reasons.
HoodooVoodooBlood (San Francisco, CA)
Absolute freedom leads inevitably to absolute repression of freedom. Extremes tend to do this. In fact, the Universe tends to do this. Balance , equilibrium and moderation are at the core of existence. Our double-helical DNA, are a series of paired genes seeking balance, equilibrium, and survival through time. Consider that the fact that history tends to repeat itself. This tendency is dictated by the genetics found in the double-helix of our DNA spiraling through time and space. The geometry of all existence and behavior is a spiral. Picture an elegant, double-helical dance of equilibrium across the ballroom floor of eternity at The Existential Ball where The Evolutionary Orchestra plays one timeless waltz after the other. Life on others planets is similar. A single species tends to eventually dominate, grow exponentially, destroy, pollute their planet for profit, develop bio and nuclear weapons and Kaboom! Another one bites the dust. Few make it to the stars. To do so would require great wisdom instead of great greed and stupidity. I digress. The absolute freedom of the press is well intentioned but absolute freedom leads inevitably to its antithesis, absolute repression, unless a reasonable balance, a reasonable equilibrium is found. Freedom of the press depends upon the balance of an educated citizenry. We rank 25th among developed nations. This fact reveals the successful GOP strategy and need for a dumbed-down voter block to keep the wealthy few in charge.
It's simple. No free press, no democracy.
Jon (Ca.)
DOJ is still tainted by Trump it takes time to clean house. Give Garland time to make the necessary changes.
Mark McIntyre (Los Angeles)
The editorial brings into question the entire U.S. security apparatus. Our government runs on secrecy. I know several people who currently have, or have had, active security clearances. Even if you're retired, you are still bound by the national security documents you signed. The question becomes if NYT or other news outlet receives classified documents or information, should they be forced to cooperate with federal investigators? There's a fine line when it comes to espionage and freedom of the press. What happens when the next Edward Snowden drops a bombshell?
MKKW (Baltimore)
Just as the internet age has made it easier for the government to collect confidential source information from reporters, the other side is true as well, it is easier for reporters to receive communications and confidential government information from sources. Both require a new standard to ensure the public is informed and protected because the ease of obtaining information makes it easier to make mistakes or even deliberately work around editors and gov't watch dogs. The news media covers the business side of tech like monopoly hearings, Wallstreet speculation and hacking problems but fail to cover it as a humanity issue - tech has devalued humanity. Computers have become more valuable than people because they don't need a living wage or sick days or have babies. They don't question employers or need consideration. They are now the bosses telling people what to do. How can we reclaim our democracy when we won't acknowledge our society and our democracy has overwhelmingly become a political system valuing money and power over community and environment. Democracy only works for the groups that are given respect and right now the US democracy works only for the wealthy, corporations and the computers they employ. This affects not just blue-collar workers but every potential wage earner from teachers to investment brokers where tech has become more important to the workplace than people. How does anyone contribute to the whole without being respected for it.
Which is the most valuable-- Human life, Free speech, or Unlimited access to guns? We live in such absurd times, that this question is no longer absurd.
Bill H (Florida)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. I don't see anything in the First Amendment about the freedom to leak national security secrets. I think you are conflating the right of the press to criticize public figures and policies, and the collective duty to keep our elected officials honest and people informed with investigating crimes. Reporters are not above the law and should not hide behind the First Amendment if they cross the line.
Seriously Folks (San Francisco)
The issue here is not Freedom of the Press or speech. It is the crime of leaking secret information...when secret information implies criminal activity on the part of the government. It should not be the case that a leaker can just leak anything willy nilly, like nuclear launch codes. Whereas, there is a clear public interest in holding our government to account. There needs to be a clear legal test and process for protecting sources of information that is in the public interest, and preventing leaks that are not in the public interest,
Dennis (Lehigh Valley, PA.)
Dear Editors, The real question is do we the people really have a 'Free Press'? Many of us don't really think so anymore!
reussere (San Diego, ca)
@Dennis - on what basis do you believe we don't have a free press? In most other countries around the world, the government's power to investigate journalists is absolute, and journalists risk their freedom and often their lives when they speak truth to power. Here in the US, during the most lawless administration in our history, the number of cases where prosecutors violated reporters rights can still be counted on one hand.
Marge Keller (Midwest)
@Dennis With all due respect, the fact that Fox News is allowed to do and say and print whatever flavor of hatred they hold for that day pretty much demonstrates to me that the Freedom of the Press is very much alive and doing quite well in this country.
David Williams (San Diego county)
@Dennis What in the world are you carrying on about? Do you think the government is running, or controlling, the media these days? I really have no idea what you're talking about.
Retired CFO (Pennington,NJ)
We recently had a nice, long lunch with our well educated 29 year old granddaughter. The conversation ranged from Covid, vaccinations, news reporting, trust in our government, and the profit motive of corporations etc. The final conclusion on her part was mistrust in all of the above institutions which she felt many of her contemporaries shared. Of course my wife and I have lived through many crises in our life times. We started our lives with great trust in our institutions and news reporting ie Walter Cronkite, but have eventually developed a healthy skepticism of all of the above. It took us 60 years to get here, but only roughly 15 years for her to see the hypocrisies of these vital institutions. This pursuit of leaks through reporter sources continues the trend to blunt truth. She feels young people will be a source of change. We hope she is right, but based on our experiences, they do not have much of a chance.
GV (Oakland, CA)
@Retired CFO You are to be congratulated for having a smart granddaughter. Our public institutions have become ossified and under the influence of evil actors. Consider TFG and his Treasury, who hid his tax records in the face of a legitimate Congressional inquiry. Or the Justice Department under his "private" lawyer who massaged publicly funded investigation to shield TFG. The country needs, according to, I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said we need a time to time peaceful revolution to recharge our democracy. This would be one such time when red states through election engineering and TFG with his authoritarian impulses are leading us into a one party rule. If that happened what would differ us from Russia or China?
George Thompson (America)
@Retired CFO I disagree. Everything has revolved around the boomers. They got everything they wanted. They benefited from unions and destroyed them such that those following would have to pay their pensions while having none. The generation following them were all smaller. This is the first generation large enough to challenge them. 65 percent under 35 voted democrat to remove Trump. Over 50 is where the upswing towards republicans occurs. The older the more likely. It's an elder abuse scam by republicans and dangerous. Also the republicans and institutions have no buy in. The youth are unable to afford a home. They have no capitol to protect. They have only known capitalists raising their rents 10% a year while they never receive a wage increase or it's measly. And no retirements nor access to medical. There is no reason for them to support it. That is why republicans are moving towards violence to maintain the tax free system for the rich and put all taxes on the rest of us. That is all they want. Freedom for themselves to do whatever they please and the rest of us to pay for it.
Anna (Melbourne)
I genuinely believe there was less to be sceptical about- there used to be some kind of genuine attempt to keep news and opinion separated…now we have the actual event as it happens and is often filmed for viewing and the propaganda reported about the event that reframes the “facts”. My mother sits in the Australian countryside reading Murdoch’s national newspaper and worries I’ll be attacked by the violent youth gangs of migrants that roam the city streets. The country burns due to climate change but his papers blame arsonists. How can young people trust any news source?
Gregory Smith (Prague)
It also means they can’t use the Espionage Act to persecute reporters and their sources. It also means they can’t bomb news facilities as the USA did in Afghanistan or Israel did in Gaza. Journalism is not espionage, and reporting is not spying. Thanks for the option piece NYT, but your silence on Assange, Winner, Snowden, and Manning, and on the deliberate targeting of Al-Jazeera, AP and other news orgs is deafening.
n1789 (savannah)
Americans don't really believe in a free press. They believe, on the LEFT, on the Right as well, in a press which caters to their biases, prejudices, and selfish concerns. You can have a free press only when you have an ethical and informed public, which we have not had for a very long time, if ever.
AKJersey (New Jersey)
Trump believes that the mainstream press is America’s enemy, for not repeating and promoting his Big Lies. On the contrary, whistleblowers were essential in revealing the extent of Trump’s illegal activities in collaboration with foreign and domestic agents. Trump and his collaborators should be prosecuted for any number of crimes on the federal and state levels, and put in prison. Only then can anti-Trumpers start to rebuild a new GOP without Trump. Only then can American democracy be restored.
Ski bum (Colorado)
Always the first step in a totalitarian regime: shut down the free press and replace it with a propaganda machine. We’ve seen this formula play out many, many times over the last 150 years: Nazi Germany and Italy, Russian and Chinese revolutions, Cuban revolution and on and on.
Michael (Florida)
If only those at CNN and WAPO were actually engaged in journalism rather than political activism.
William Barnett (Eugene, Or)
@Michael Name ONE reporter at WAPO or CNN who broadcasts blatant misinformation or promotes the diseased myth of white supremacy as virulently as Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham, et al. Journalism still lives, if you take the time to read it. But Murdoch = National Enquirerer, which is to journalism what the WWF is to the Olympics.
Bos (Boston)
To begin with, it is a mistake to put President Obama's policy alongside with Trump's. Why? Mr Obama inherited a mess from W Bush. Then there was Snowden. On the other hand, to Trump, the press is just another shiny object, a wedge like birtherism. While it is NYT Editorial Board to make a case for journalistic freedom. The concept of journalism has changed in the era of internet. Everyone can call oneself a journalist without understanding the awesome responsibility of a journalist. That is why we have so much misinformation. Even when you subtract the self-style journalists like Drudge or worse, NYT Editorial Board should ask itself, have journalists been observing certain restraints when the news are more personal in nature. From JFK era self-censorship to Clinton's blue dress to nowaday's everything goes "we got the scoop first" competitive journalism to the point of yellow journalism, the demand on Biden should not be one-way. Has journalism itself done any reflection? And the moral of ambitious journalists, real or fake alike?
Bill H (Florida)
Whistleblower or spy? It's like porn, you know it when you see it. And it is the collective responsibility of the press to know the difference. Whistleblowers expose crimes or violations of the Constitution by our elected officials and do not try to profit from their efforts. People who expose state secrets that are not crimes or violations of the Constitution weaken our collective security and should be punished. That goes for reporters or news outlets that aid and abet such activities. There is nothing in the Constitution about the "free flow of information" to the press about national security issues. If a NYT reporter receives leaked information and it does not show a crime or violation of the Constitution, and knowingly weakens our national security, their source, the reporter and the paper should be liable. The First Amendment does not protect leaked codes to our nuclear weapons being published.
David (Chicago)
The problem with this line of thinking is that it relies on the public trusting that main stream media will responsibly regulate itself. I get that a free press keeps government accountable. But who keeps the free press accountable? It's already been demonstrated in abundant recent incidences( Wuhan virus/lab) that the media simply can't be trusted at all. No, not even the venerable NYT who has yet to come clean that they got it wrong on the virus, mistakenly blasted Tom Cotton and others as virus deniers and conspiracy theorists, etc.
James Johns (Long Island City NJ)
ONE OF THE CHALLENGES IN PROTECTING THE IDENTITIES OF REPORTERS IS That with the Internet and social media, their "confidential" information is held by third parties. One possible work-around would be to have information encoded when sent out by the reporter and received by the other parties. It is possible to encode information that can be viewed only by the addressee, using box and chain software. In some ways, that seems to be kicking the can down the road, because the recipients of reports the government is seeking may be subject to legal sanctions. Biden said that the situation warrants correction. I believe that he will take the action needed to protect reporters doing their jobs.
Kurt Pickard (Murfreesboro, TN)
Isn't everything much clearer in the light of day without having to worry about what lurks in the inky shadows? Doesn't the public deserve better than conjecture in their daily news feed? How about preponderance of evidence outside of the editorial and op-ed pages? If not, then there's no standing behind, "All the News That's Fit to Print" is there? If the public is looking for reporting through unsubstantiated claims, rumor or innuendo, there's plenty to satiate that desire in most grocery stores check out aisles. Granted the truth can be dry and hard to digest at times but that's the job of a reporter and their editors, to make the news palatable. Stepping anywhere near the boundary of the First Amendment shouldn't even be a thought anymore than slanderous or malicious accounts tempered by bias. Granted, the first priority of any business is to remain so but has it gotten to the point at any cost?
JCO (New Orleans)
If the New York Times isn't willing to write editorials in support of Julian Assange, who has spent a decade in prison for publishing verifiable facts, then how can anyone take them seriously in this instance?
Ben (NY)
@JCO Because you don't need to write editorials in support of or even about Julian Assange to be considered respectable media.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
This is not so clear cut for me. Elected officials have responsibilities to their constituents and that means adhering to the laws around document classification. “Leaking” can be seen as violating those laws and it undermines trust and may in some cases border on treason. Reporters are not saints and do not always have pure or fair motives either (much less so in the current 24 by 7 bloodsport that “journalism” has become). I know that may be shocking for the times to consider but people’s opinion of the media as being an honest institution is at an all time low. I’m not so sure that “anonymous” or “unnamed sources” really do serve us that well.
Walkin' Willie (Comic Book Land)
@Norville T. Johnstone - I don't think the people's opinion of the media is relevant (e.g. "fake news") when it comes to the First Amendment. If we do not preserve the Fourth Estate then we are on a fast path to autocracy and after the last four years, that fast path is no longer hyperbole.
Tom (Pennsylvania)
@Norville T. Johnstone whether or not you like or trust a particular outlet has zero impact on whether or not we should willingly stand up for their First Amendment rights. In fact, if we do not defend First Amendment rights for opinions/voices we do not like or with which we do not agree, then we have no First Amendment rights. Please think about this prior sentence very carefully. George Washington: "If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." Harry S. Truman: "Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear." To infringe on First Amendment rights is to take a very dangerous step away from Democratic principles and processes.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
@Tom Tom I'm a staucnh supporter for the First Amendment and do not want political views silenced. (The one point I wrestle with is s anything promoting Nazism as it an ideology we defeated but have not removed entirely from the face of the Earth - but that's for another day. My issue is, we are better served by the media if we can know who their sources are, especially within the government. An argument can be made about immediate disclosure but a lifelong shield for leaking makes me uncomfortable. It would affect my voting if I felt that someone didn't have the courage to provide transparency and speak up when they should have done so.
Sture Ståhle (Sweden)
Protecting media is crucial in a democracy. One can frequently hear Americans bragging about the superiority of your 1st amendment simply because Nazis are allowed to roam the streets flying their flags contrary to in Europe where Nazi symbols ain’t allowed but your 1st amendment doesn’t protect media. In my Sweden is the source of a journalist protected by Grundlagen (our constitution) . Trying to act in the way it is described in the article is illegal and punishment is prison
Tom W. (Cambridge Springs, PA)
@George Thompson I am in strong agreement, George with nearly all of your comment. Well said. However, I think the last paragraph goes too far. “Going after journalists is a no go... ...They simply said something a politician didn’t like...” You’re not allowing for the fact that a journalist can “Yell ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theater.” The televised news at 6:00 PM cannot report bald-faced lies as news: “The ‘Black Lives Matter’ riots and looting continue across the nation. We’ll get an accurate count of the number of policemen who’ve been killed or wounded as soon as possible. Let’s hope the National Guard can curtail this insanity.” “Reports that the tourists who visited the Capitol building in Washington D.C. on January 6th were disrespectful and destructive have been blown out of proportion.” This isn’t journalism. It is corruption. It is dangerous to our democracy and should be stopped.
David in Le Marche (Italy)
It is reasonable to keep some things secret in the interest of national security, but stupid and/or illegal activities by government officials should not be among those things. No real democracy can function as such without transparent governance. If the government has legitimate secrets, it should keep them hidden where journalists cannot find them. Journalists who do find them should make them public if they believe it serves the public interest. If journalists have broken laws in order to get access to secrets, they should be prosecuted. Government officials who classify information about illegal or embarrassing government activity should also be prosecuted. Laws governing determination of what is a legitimate secret should err on the side openness. Of course, the Devil will be in the details.
Carlos R. Rivera (Coronado CA)
@David in Le Marche So, why did the government "keep" UFO information for so long? National Security? If the UFO, or, even Aliens, are using tech that well exceeds our current or future grasp, how is that a national secret?
David Williams (San Diego county)
@Carlos R. Rivera, Wow! What is "the UFO"? Why is aliens capitalized? (I'm guessing because of the movies.) Keep watching the skies!
John Brews (Tucson, AZ)
The Justice Department has shown repeatedly if late that it is not in sync with Biden, but a piece of Trump detritus. It’s time the Biden Administration straightened things out.
ElleJ (CT)
While I am as cynical as anyone can be, if Biden says he’ll stop this, I believe he will. But as far as the future, it seems we are always one election away from disaster. Look how trump eviscerated every branch of federal government by installing his unqualified lackeys. I’m sorry to hear Obama engaged in this, but even according to fake fox’s own statements, they are an entertainment network and no one in their right mind would believe them, as they now use as a defense in lawsuits. So I think it’s a false equivalency to classify them as anything but GOP sensationalists, for they certainly have never been journalists.
Carlos R. Rivera (Coronado CA)
@ElleJ Well, the left condemned vigorously Bush II for threatening to jail or jailing journalists, but when Obama approached and crossed that sacred line, well, not as much vigorously outrage! And, now the Justice Department says it respect the First Amendment for "legitimate journalism"---aka 1984-new speak for "those who toe the line"!
JM (San Francisco)
@ElleJ Half of my family believe Faux News. Tucker, Laura and Sean are their best friends.
@ElleJ, Fox is an “entertainment” network? They certainly aren’t a news source, but it’s hard for me to classify propaganda as entertainment. I’d love to see them try to source their stories from someone other than their own inner circle of trumpist apologists. I won’t hold my breath waiting, though. I think the New York Times is of course not perfect; I think some of its younger reporters and commentators need a bit more seasoning. However, it and the Washington Post, plus the Guardian and usually (but with more of a sensationalistic bent, The Daily Beast) are head and shoulders above the rest of what’s available, and they are where I turn for reliable reporting that can be sourced to multiple places.
Tom W. (Cambridge Springs, PA)
It is clear why law enforcement officials must shape their investigations and legal efforts to scrupulous compliance with the law. That is, they must “play by the rules,” even though they may be coping with organized criminals who lack any regard for the law. Even when they are working to apprehend criminals who have murdered law enforcement officials or their family members. Even when faced with henious threats and intimidation. Likewise elected and appointed governmental officials must “toe the line” when coping with investigative journalists. Or muckraking journalists. Freedom of the press and the rights of individuals to privacy must be observed. These are common sense ideas I studied in school in the 1960’s. However, over the past decades, particularly over the past five years, we have passed through times and situations that shake our confident understanding of how America works, of how our democratic balance is maintained. We once assumed that anyone elected president would be rational, honest and sincere. That the Senate Majority Leader would comply with the constitution, as will the Attorney General. That Supreme Court Justices will, in fact, act as JUDGES, not partisan hacks. Since McConnell defied the constitution and denied President Obama the power to appoint federal judges, with the advice and consent of the senate, balance of American democracy is toppling. Donald Trump now intimidates the nation with millions who pretend to believe his ludicrous lies.
Saints Fan (Houston, TX)
The modern media has become a threat to democracy in this country. Something needs to be done to hold them accountable. Possibly an independent board of journalists who have the power to levy civil penalities in the form of fines.
Ted (NY)
Regrettably, the free press is a monopoly. This morning’s cyber attack on the NYT and other organization outlets, plus UK government agencies is proof positive that by relying on a single cloud platform to support these systems runs the risk of sabotage and collapse. Monopolies don’t work. Likewise, the media monopolistic industry has to be broken up and allowed to compete. But, back to the editorial’s point, the First Amendment and freedom of the press must be protected.
Mua (Transoceanic)
CNN, Fox, MSNBC and their contemporaries all spew dogma from their management that contains varying degrees of veracity, hyperbole, propaganda to sell controversy, and outright lies. It was enlightening and sickeningly sad to recently watch each of these infotainment establishments grill Dr. Anthony Fauci about the minor differences in his past and present statements regarding Covid precautions-- all the while showing their arrogant lack of understanding of how science works and how it is a process of discovery based on best available evidence of the current period, and is not a religion. They all show that they feel no responsibility toward educating the public with factual reporting, but rather inflaming controversy for its own sake of entertainment and selling advertisement. The "fairness doctrine" is a shipwreck itself because an opinion is only as valuable as the facts it is based on-- thus airing "opposing views" is useless in the fight for honesty and truth. But I digress...
Ichabod Aikem (Cape Cod)
The free press has played a major role over the last four years in preserving American democracy. From Trump’s suppression of Mueller’s investigation to his mishandling the pandemic to his provocation of the insurrectionists on January 6th, the NYT has uncovered all of the lies and deceit and corruption that Trump’s GOP has engaged in to harm our country. I am pleased that President Biden will support our First Amendment to protect the free press so that they can do their work, unhindered by political machinations. The NYT has been the voice of reason over these last years of insanity.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat-Gan, Israel)
"The result is that the press’s First Amendment protections extend as far as the current administration’s Justice Department decides they do. That’s upside down; the scope of a constitutional freedom should not be at the mercy of the executive branch." If so, perhaps then the Supreme Court should rule, which as the NYT writes it has not done since 1972. The ultimate arbiter on constitutional issues is after all the Supreme Court. However, the results may not be what the NYT or Biden Administration wants.
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." - Thomas Jefferson "Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech." - Benjamin Franklin “A free press can be good or bad, but, most certainly, without freedom a press will never be anything but bad.” – Albert Camus "Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government." - Hugo Black "Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy." - Walter Cronkite Don't be like Alexander Lukashenko or Vladimir Putin or others who like to drown freedom of the press in their totalitarian bathtubs. Let the news flow like honey, vinegar and everything in between, for better or for worse.
Mixilplix (Delray Beach, Florida)
McConnell has taken our nation backwards 100 years. We need to move forward.
sdavidc9 (Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut)
You have to protect whistle-blowers without enabling agent-provocateurs.
hawk (New England)
Interesting turn of events for a man that was in the thick of it, unmasking
DKM (NE Ohio)
There would be no need to worry about leaks if our illustrious Government didn't do stupid things that warranted leaking. Sort of a tautological truth, which is probably antithetical to Politics (Truth, that is), but I just thought I'd point this out in case anyone in Congress or the Whitehouse is listening.
HoodooVoodooBlood (San Francisco, CA)
"Put a peasant on a thoroughbred and he'll ride it hard, 'til it drops, every time." That pretty much describes The con man, the loser, that was voted out in 2020. Or, put it this way; Elect a little fellow with a huge compensatory ego directing his flawed mentality and you get a loser like the fellow voted out in 2020. Or, just do your research on the loser and you'll see his whole like was a series of failures that created its huge compensatory ego, compelling it to ignore 'freedom of the press', the law, taxes, the Constitution, Russian loans, the CIA, NSA, dedicated Diplomatic Corps, The Pentagon etc etc etc. Elect a celebrity loser and you could lose your democracy.
Mixilplix (Delray Beach, Florida)
McConnell would just shrug and cheat.
Northern D (Canada)
Social Media is a big part of the problem. Posting lies to get eyes and readership on those falsehoods. Responsible journalism and the ability to tell both sides of a story is a big reason democracies managed to endure in most Western societies. For example if someone on a social media platform wrote the following: I hereby nominate Donald Trump to be President ... of cell block number 8. I'm sure they would capture alot of interest but such a comment is in bad taste and mainstream media wouldn't dare to run it. Social Media a vast wasteland : )
NyeB (Leicester, England)
I must admit I find it strange how deferential the NYT is in its political reporting, compared to the Guardian and similar European newspaper-online journalism. We get analysis to explain the machinations of the US Congress and White House, but it's larded with a heavy, totally-unjustified, deferential presumption of those involved being honorable people acting in good faith. Despite the facts plain to see, the NYT doesn't call people that are objectively fascististic facists (and not just because they don't so self-identify). IMHO the USA's Culture War (where opinions can trump facts, and right-wingers project themselves on to their opponents... making BLM stand for white-suppression/extermination) needs to be fought 'gloves-off'. Pick a side. If some readers can't cope with lies told by lying liars not being 'fairly' treated as reasonable, be resigned to losing them rather than see the First Amendment scrapped by zealots of the Second. Overall, I'd suggest it would have been better to have the peace-settlement following the First American Civil War permanently settle the issues that caused it, rather than being like the Treaty of Versailles after WWI... which meant that the 'Great War' only served as the rehearsal for actually eliminating German military ambitions for global, imperial power in WWII.
Bob Guthrie (Australia)
Trump's MO is not original. He got it from the execrable Roy Cohn who taught him to accuse his opponents of the same thing he himself is doing... in short gaslighting. It is not so much that he called the media fake; it is more that he indulged in his own fake-ness as he accused any source that might expose him as fake. It has been the preposterousness of his laughably self serving straw men that is the more dangerous- the gas lighting. Now even Corey Lewandowski has said the election was correctly conducted. In the end not even the GOP can stifle the truth from eventually coming out. The real issue is to affirm the credibility and integrity of the media source that one accesses. What is needed is critical thinking which informs us decisively that some news sources have more integrity and credibility than other's.
Dolores Deluxe (balto md)
this digital age is a curse upon us."nearly always in the hands of a third party".! Terrifying!
Bruce Williams (Chicago)
Right now we have near deadlock in Congress. For anything like this, presidential action, easily reversed, will have to do. Journalism needs to have more of a consensus before it gets support, and that means winning elections. Maybe some self-examination is in order.
oscar jr (sandown nh)
So why can't we have a system that allows for truth, meaning that if what the reporter reports is true there is no law broken. Since we live in a democracy there is no such thing as secrets. If our elected officials are not informed then the government is breaking the law by not informing us. Since we already live under two types of laws, criminal and civil we can have the same for secrets. A secrete of national defense is different than an affair. just because the president says it does not make it a national defense issue.
RjW (Chicago)
Only a judge, possibly as part of a special court , should be able to approve a wiretap or equal on a national security basis.
Sarah (Arlington, VA)
@RjW Judges indeed approve wiretaps, in case you don't know.
Al M (Norfolk Va)
These are good moves. No journalist should feel threatened for exposing truths that citizens should know. As for the Free Press, in the US it is increasingly monopolized and reflective of the agenda and views of its owners, even as journalists are laid off and the press consolidated to squeeze out profits. A free press must also have legal limitations where incitement and disinformation passed off as fact are concerned. The disinformation machine created by Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdock has eliminated the legitimacy of facts and increased a cultivated national divide that may well lead to civil war. The legitimacy of the press is at stake. A republic requires an informed citizenry which underscored the need for media legitimacy and responsibility. At present we have neither.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The first amendment prohibition of legislative endorsement of religious beliefs is the most scoffed at law in this nonstop insult to intelligence governing system. Its collapse into civil war seems inevitable.
Patty (Chester County, PA)
In regard to the Free Press, the Justice Department needs to be assessed, re-modeled, and brought up to date. Their recent positions on not releasing memos and acting as lawyer for Trump leads me to believe that DOJ employees are being protected from fair scrutiny. I expect any day now, Merrick Garland will give a medal to Bill Barr.
Chris (SW PA)
I think we can trust the government to keep all the secrets they want. Just look at the trajectory of working class people over the last fifty years, the government has really come through for the people. Real wages have gone down and our healthcare system is the worst and most expensive in the developed countries. The price of college is out of sight. Why would the government who has treated the serfs so well keep secrets that weren't in our best interest? I think we can trust them to not destroy the us totally. But I will say, it's a good thing the serfs are masochists.
michjas (Phoenix)
Disclosing classified information is a crime here there and everywhere. The Board wants reporters who are involved in this crime to be exempt from investigation. That requires a privilege that reporters don’t have. Lawyers have the privilege to allow them to assist their clients. Spouses have the privilege to protect the sanctity of marriage. Priests have the privilege to protect their right to counsel. And doctors have the privilege to protect public health. Reporters want the privilege so they can publicize stuff deemed essential to our national security. I prefer to block publication of matters that compromise our national security than to safeguard the right of the media to reveal the names of CIA agents like Valerie Plame who dedicated her life to National Security and was outed by a reporter for no good reason. The Board is overreaching, protecting criminal activity in the name of the First Amendment.
John Zotto (Ischia)
Biden just opened up a huge can of worms. Now as a government employee, I will know that no matter what classified materiel i share with a reporter, it will not be traced back to me. Even better, I am a Russian or Chinese spy posing as a reporter and I now know that CIA/FBI/NSA employees will freely share whatever classified materiel they possess if it goes against their political/personal/religious views. There are whistle blower laws that protect government employees who go through the proper channels. Why the press feels they have to peak at classified materiel is beyond me. I understand public corruption but then again today's press is so politicised they decide what is worthy to report.
ASPruyn (California - Somewhere left of center)
One significant question that needs to be addressed is what happens when the government really messes something up and declares that the information dealing with the mess is a classified, and therefore, a reporter letting the people who elect the government know about it is subject to penalties. This sort of thing happens in tinpot dictatorships around the world. One thing to remember is that many of the people who get into trouble with the government of Russia (led by one of the people The Former Guy really respected) are journalists who are reporting on government mess ups or failure to follow through on promises. It that what our founding fathers would have wanted? They wanted a free press to be able to report on what the government is doing. Suppose that a journalist is having a secret affair (nothing illegal about that), could the government use information gleaned from from the emails and phone records to “convince” the journalist that it is in the journalist’s own best interest to stay quiet about a problem? And if they could, how would that support the freedom of the press?
JR (Wisconsin)
Well, what Biden says is all well and good, but really who cares. Based on the weakness of the Democratic Party there won’t be a free press by 2024. We’ll all be living in a one party state run by republicans. You can probably kiss free speech and eventually most civil liberties good bye as well. God bless America!
Jim (Gurnee, IL)
This comment may show ignorance but why are Democrats (Obama) approving this behavior? Is this such a slippery slope that both parties are compelled to act in the same manner? Why now after we have won against Communism, Terrorism? During the Vietnam War this behavior would be ringing bells without the bell-ringer around. Even the Palmer Raids we learned about as students eventually had a bi-partisan reaction against pushing the envelope too far. If this is our history, why is this back as an issue?
John (Port jervis NY)
Isn't it clear from this recounting of the 'case' that the Federal Government has practical absolute control over the information about what it is doing in general and in particular across the board? The unavoidable logical conclusion is that 'self government' has taken on a reduced meaning; it means simply that the government is responsible to itself and its agents. The public and the press are scenery in the show.
ASPruyn (California - Somewhere left of center)
@John - I would like to disagree with you, however, when I worked in military intelligence, I saw some things that were classified not because our enemies might learn from that information (they already knew that information, and it was not a matter of protecting our sources), but because it would cause a stink amongst the citizens back home. Some of this information was about how we were violating treaties that we were signatory to, which our enemies clearly knew about. When I asked my supervisor why one such piece was so highly classified, his reply was simply, “It would upset people back home.”
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The US lies to its own people about the basics of reality. Little about the US looks honest under close examination.
Sirharryflashman (Ottawa)
I guess this is an example of the 'deep state' at work. It does what it wants, regardless of who sits in the White House. Regardless of what they say, whistle-blowers are not welcome to those in power. The rules protecting them are not really worth the paper they are written on. To those in power, the first amendment is not embraced.
Citizen2013 (USA)
My bad, Snowden actually said that he went through Official channels several times, and that his whistleblowing fell on deaf ears, prompting him to go rogue. This is similar to governmental whistleblowers who blow the whistle internally, and find that their concerns fall on deaf hears. Although the common refrain is that governmental whistleblowers have recourse against retaliation under the law, many don't in practice.
John Zotto (Ischia)
@Citizen2013 I forgot what did he leak that was so pertinent to humanity ? Did it involve torture or crimes against humanity, public corruption ?
Brian (Baltimore)
It is widely documented that Snowden never attempted to use the channels available to whistle blowers. Documented and reported by the NYT.
Citizen2013 (USA)
@Brian Perhaps, if Snowden had been part of the resistance, leaking against Trump, he would have been protected or received more favorably by some elements in the government, who are partisan to the Democrats/Obama et. al.. But there is a reality that there are whistleblowers who do go through the proper channels in the government, and the disclosures of waste, fraud and abuse fall on death ears and never reach the light of day or the American public. The whistleblower has just then exposed one's self to be targeted for retaliation by the government. Whistleblower protections are not that strong for the average, actual whistleblower.
Elliot Silberberg (Steamboat Springs, Colorado)
When someone tells a journalist a secret that’s in the public interest on the condition the journalist agrees not to say where he/she heard it, the public interest is served and that someone’s right to privacy is protected. Thus is democracy served, unless Big Brother comes around.
John Zotto (Ischia)
@Elliot Silberberg As the article implies, everything we say is already known to Google, Facebook and Twitter. They are Big Brother.
Citizen2013 (USA)
You look at the way Obama treated some whistleblowers who actually went through the "proper" channels to blow the whistle and did not leak to the press. They had their careers destroyed anyway, many were hounded from Obama's civil service and had no recourse and of course, we don't know about many of them because of government secrecy, coverups, and the lack of will of the mainstream media to report on these whistleblowers. Didn't one well known whistleblower who leaked to the media, Ed Snowden, state that routine governmental persecution of whistleblowers who went through the proper official channels, prompted him to leak to the press? I'm not giving an opinion about the propriety of that whistleblower's actions, but we have to look at the damage being done. This editorial states: "When the government piles secrecy upon secrecy, one has to wonder whose interests are really being served." Exactly. It's because of governmental secrecy that much of the "right thinking world" thinks that Obama was a president who values justice in the workplace for all, generally speaking, particularly the Federal Government, including for African American descendants of American slaves (who are not cronies to his administration). It's because of government secrecy that the American public really does not often know what is going on and the waste, fraud and abuse that has been committed in the US Government, but which has been swept under the rug.
Citizen2013 (USA)
But Obama - did he ever seek to prosecute for leaks that came from his administration to the press and portrayed his administration in a favorable light and/or furthered its goals? Obama has substantial latitude to craft an image of what happened during his presidential administration. He's affiliated with Netflix, owns his own production company and most of the media loves him. Meanwhile, there is this alternate universe going on with respect to leaks and how his administration contradictorily handled leaks depending on the source and what was being exposed.
Twg (NV)
I am a staunch believer that freedom of the press is a fundamental pillar of democracy. At the same time I also understand that, " The digital age has only complicated matters further because the records sought by government are nearly always in the hands of third parties." (One has to wonder if such standards existed during he Watergate scandal what the public might have actually learned. Ditto for the Pentagon Papers.) It has always been a delicate balance: national security concerns versus transparency of decision making and ethical governance. Based on this article it appears that shield-laws should have a better, federal standard. We need our investigative reporters to do their jobs holding those in authority accountable. We need the editors and publishers of news organizations to hold their organizations and reporters to high ethical standards. American democracy will die without a vigorous free press. Yet this should never be a license for organizations to profit from misinformation and heightened political propaganda. Wrong information can be just as deadly as a lack of transparency.
Howard Gregory (Hackensack, N.J.)
This issue represents yet another fine example of authorized government officials abusing for partisan political purposes America’s classification system, America’s system for determining and withholding the government’s secrets from all unauthorized parties, including members of the executive branch without clearance, the legislature, the judiciary, the press, and the public. Whether it’s this issue, seizing reporters’ email and phone records to investigate the leaking of reportedly classified information thereby protecting national security, or as the A.C.L.U reports, the F.B.I or another domestic intelligence agency harassing effective progressive political activists to control their First Amendment-protected political dissent behind the pretext of protecting national security, it presents the paradoxical problem of the government of the premier democracy on Earth contemptuously assaulting rights bestowed by its own Constitution. Until our government changes the way its secrets are developed, handled, and reviewed, the classification system will likely continue to be abused for partisan or even personal reasons. I strongly suspect that our classification system holds many explanations for America’s inequitable economy, financially captured, gridlocked, and barely responsive government, and our resulting plethora of societal problems.
Diptomoy (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
Freedom of press should be ensured but the govt. has to be concerned about the conspiracies which can be implemented by the traitors secretly throughout using social media or any other medium of press. So, it will be better to fix an exact regulation of collecting mass documents and also about its flow in public.
archipelago (usa)
The attacks on a free press span presidencies and parties. While talking about Biden and Trump, we should remember Obama's attacks on the press as well (even if he covered it with a winning smile). Related to these attacks is the government obsession with secrecy, again, across administrations. Daniel Patrick Moynihan published an excellent, but little noticed book about this, called "Secrecy" in 1999.
Chris (Georgia)
@archipelago Read the first paragraph again.
Ecce Homo (Jackson Heights)
This editorial proceeds from the premise that the First Amendment protects journalists from investigations into their sources, but in fact the First Amendment does not, and never has. When a journalist’s source commits a crime - in this instance, by disclosing classified or confidential information - the government is legally entitled to investigate the crime, and journalists, like all other Americans, are obligated to reveal what they know about the crime. The press understandably prefers that governments not include them in such investigations. But the Times’s insistence that this policy preference is mandated by “freedom of the press” has no basis except wishful thinking in actual First Amendment law.
@Ecce Homo Absolutely not true legally speaking. And that is an international law. When investigating, journalists cannot know what is legal or not , by essence, since no juridiction has been legiferred over actions which are still in the obscure dimension. They just investigate. So, for that reason, their sources should be kept confidential and inherent to their own investigations. Journalists cannot be indicted for crimes on which they search the whereabouts. It is a serious confusion of the British Common law and of the American law to think that journalism is in the same business as crime . or politics.
Ecce Homo (Jackson Heights)
@JPH You couldn't be more wrong about the law. Once a crime has been committed - in this case, unauthorized disclosure of classified or confidential information - criminal investigators are entitled to gather information from all witnesses who might have information bearing on the commission of the crime. It is not relevant whether those witnesses know a crime has been committed or not. It is also not relevant whether those witnesses are journalists. A journalist who receives classified or confidential information from a source is entitled to publish it - that is the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment. But the journalist is not exempted from the duty of all citizens to reveal information to investigators - in this case, the identity of the source. You suggest that international law overrides American law in this respect, but that is simply not the case - and therefore, it is not surprising that you fail to specify the supposed international law in question. Finally, you confuse a journalist's obligation as a witness with a journalist being a suspect - nobody, not even the Trump Administration, contended that the Times journalists should be prosecuted. The question at hand is whether journalists are exempt from the ordinary obligations of witnesses. First Amendment law is clear - they are not, no matter how much they might like to be. In the history of the Republic, no federal appellate court has ever held otherwise.
Somebody (Somewhere)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Seems like all of the above are routinely violated.
Tom W. (Cambridge Springs, PA)
@Somebody Perhaps they are all seemingly violated, because they are ALL limited in commonsense practical ways. For example: “...the right of the people to peacefully assemble...” Three million people cannot peacefully assemble in Washington Square Park. The government should and would stop the attempt. “...prohibiting the free exercise of religion” If you catch the witches that are causing the current pandemic, the government will stop you from burning them. Even though the high priest thinks that’s the way to go. Religion doesn’t trump the rule of law. The rights mentioned in our constitution and bill of rights are NOT absolute. The statements of our rights need to be tempered with common sense, practicality and law.
Julie (Portland)
@Somebody By Whom? Our paid off politicans by the billionaires?
John Brown (Washington D.C.)
@Somebody Leaks from the executive branch pose a threat to national security. I say this as a Republican who was equally appalled when the leaks happened to Obama. No President should be forced to tolerate or pit up with moles and informants while trying to run the country. And if you do want to challenge the man himself, put your name on it.
HOUDINI (New York City)
Everything you need to know is right here: "It represents a combination of official secrecy and information control that is anathema to democracy."
Walter (California)
Do we even have a real discussion when Fox News, licensed as an entertainment network, is considered "the press?" Enough America. It is 2021 and one of the main "news sources" for the United States is a propaganda network. In which case, we go back to square one. Americans should have dealt with this back in the 1990's when Fox came on the air. I applaud Biden's move. But we are in huge trouble still and will be until we establish who actually even has true press credentials.
HB (nyc)
Agreed. One big yet simple step Biden could push for now would be to enact--or should I say, re-enact--the Fairness Doctrine. That would force Fox News, as well as every other media outlet, to air differing opinions to their own. It might be the only way ever for Democrats to get the truth out, however fleetingly, to conservative viewers.
Bob Guthrie (Australia)
@HB Joe Manchin said "I’m going to continue to keep working with my bipartisan friends and hopefully we can get more of them." The same bipartisan friends who have been calling the media fake news for at least 5 years. He said that on Fox in one of the few shows on that propaganda network that is not real fake news.
Meredith (New York)
@HB ...they said the Fairness Doctrine wouldn't apply to cable tv, only to broadcast tv. And they removed limits on how much media a company could own in a given area, per the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Wikipedia: "The Act was claimed to foster competition. Instead, it continued the historic industry consolidation reducing the number of major media companies..." So Fox expanded and spread lies across the land.
Red Sox, ‘04, ‘07, ‘13, ‘18 (Boston)
I know this: if not for the long, discursive investigative pieces that exposed Donald Trump's (alleged) tax, real estate, banking and other assorted frauds, he would have gotten away with them to the immense harm of the Republic. I am sorry that presidents, including Barack Obama, felt the urgent need to identify the sources of leaks that might harm their administrations. If reporters fear that their work must pass government muster, then what's the point of a democracy? Richard Nixon was done in by Watergate and the Pentagon Papers and by ancillary pettiness that was exposed by the Times and by WaPo. Without them, what would we be today? With presidents cracking down on the sources of information that the public needs to make decisions, I find this paranoia dovetailing with the frightening crudities and absurdities like the QAnon group, a madness that has eaten away at the once-respectable Republican Party. It seems that no institution is now free from the assault of caretakers of the same and that includes a Supreme Court that is aa close to an authoritarian rubber stamp as we are likely to see. Who knows; in a handful of years, we may look back on the John Roberts Court as an island of sanity in a sea of catastrophes and calamities that were the vestibule to one-party rule. Reporters, with their sources protected, are really the final bulwark the we have against a violent takeover of our nation. President Biden needs to more forcefully condemn this criminal behavior.
Matthew (NJ)
@Red Sox, ‘04, ‘07, ‘13, ‘18 Yeah, no, the press is not going to stop the oncoming civil war. Sadly.
@Red Sox, ‘04, ‘07, ‘13, ‘18 If the protection of reporters' sources is so sacred, why are the barriers of entry to the profession so low? (We have degree and license requirements for many professions, but not for journalists)
Betsy Groth (Old Lyme Ct)
Red Sox, trump is getting away with these crimes. The press cannot do all the heavy lifting. They report the facts and the truth. Then it is the responsibility of we the people to do something with the information.
RamS (New York)
I want to talk about the filibuster: Manchin has said "no" to removing it but why not try to get a Republican on board? I think it is very unlikely they will do it but it might be worth a shot. Surely if they can get 50 votes to eliminate the filibuster, it can be removed. So why not cajole some other non Democrat to do it?
Todd (Wisconsin)
@RamS Agreed.
Closet Theorist (Colorado)
"The Supreme Court has dropped the ball here, too. " Isn't that their job? To drop the same ball that congress drops, and try to ensure the ball is smashed enough so it can't ever be picked up? Its hard to imagine that there's any aspect of the whole transformation of american society that didn't have at least some connection to the core strategy of right wing control of the judiciary. These judges were put there to advance various antidemocratic causes - the notion that they do, should, or will ever care at all about democracy or associated democratic freedoms is naive. This central component of the strategy - control of the judiciary - was made very clear in the 1971 Powell memorandum.
Todd (Wisconsin)
@Closet Theorist The Supreme Court has been more destructive than any other American institution. It’s a corrupt organ of oligarchy. Nothing more; nothing less.
Dan (NV)
People who are entrusted to protect correctly classified information should be aggressively prosecuted when they violate that pledge. Those with security clearances knowingly and willingly accept restrictions on some of their rights.
Charlie Messing (Burlington, VT)
@Dan Yes, but Lincoln said "A bad promise is better broken than kept."
George Thompson (America)
@Dan Needs to start with congress. A congress person and the leaders comes with an oath of office. They constantly break that oath as we witnessed with the Mueller report and from Trump asking Russia for assistance in hacking US officials property. He should have been impeached multiple times for those actions. By breaking his oath and they theirs they put people in positions of trust and power in a situation where they have to weight their oath to defend the united states from both foreign and domestic enemies into the questionable position of when do you do that. In case of authoritarians I support the breach by officials because the oath is about protecting us, our democracy and the citizens of this nation from abuses. If it aids us, good. Going after journalists is a no go. It can be used for any excuse. They simply said something a politician didn't like and all of a sudden to silence them they are being hit with investigations. Why? To silence journalists.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
@George I don’t think it is always about silencing journalists but rather finding out who is supplying them with information and then hiding the fact that they did supply the information. If they are willing to give this information to a journalist who is to say they won’t give it to our enemies as well?
See also