Sometimes the naiveté of the press is nothing less than startling. For many months, the media have been expressing tremendous outrage concerning leaks from the Bush administration that allegedly “outed” a member of the CIA. Now, the White House is looking into legal ways to prevent such leaks, and the media are equally dismayed. Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN represented a fine example of this hypocrisy. Host Howard Kurtz discussed this matter with U.S. News & World Report editor-at-large David Gergen, and former ABC News correspondent Linda Douglass (video link to follow).
First, Gergen suggested that he has not seen so secretive a White House for over thirty years, bringing up one of the media’s favorite Republican whipping boys – “we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon” – while appearing incredulous when he stated:
“This is the first administration that I can remember, including Nixon's, that said -- and Porter Goss said this to Congress -- that we need to think about a law that would put journalists who print national security things to bring them up in front of grand juries and put them in jail if they don't -- in effect, if they don't reveal their sources.”
Hmmm. So, David, as a nation, do you think we SHOULDN’T stop newspapers from printing national security secrets? I guess so. Apparently, so does Douglass:
“And the Justice Department is talking about using a pre-World War I law to prosecute people who receive classified information. That could be journalists. So now they're talking about potentially prosecuting journalists who simply receive information.”
Hmmm. Linda, did you know that in our penal system, it is both illegal to transfer stolen goods AND receive them. Or that it is illegal to sell AND possess drugs? With that in mind, if we want to eliminate leaks of national security information in the middle of wars in Iraq and on terrorism, wouldn’t we better accomplish this by penalizing both the deliverers AND the recipients of this information? Or, is this just another example of media members believing that the freedom of the press means that they are above the law?
What follows is a transcript of this exchange, along with a video clip courtesy of Crooks and Liars.
KURTZ: Let me break in, David, because I want to get your thoughts on one other thing...
KURTZ: ... and that is the story on the front page of this morning's "Washington Post" about White House effort to stem leaks. And it talks about the administration, the Bush administration, having launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. These involve federal employees being questioned on "The New York Times" story about the national security wiretaps, on the "Washington Post" story about secret CIA prisons, Valerie Plame, all of that.
Do you -- you have been on both sides of this fence. Do you see this as an administration that really is going after journalists, or just legitimately trying to stem the flow of classified information leaking out to the press?
GERGEN: I am glad you brought that up. This administration has engaged in secrecy at a level we have not seen in over 30 years.
Unfortunately, I have to bring up the name of Richard Nixon, because we haven't seen it since the days of Nixon. And now what they're doing -- and they're using the war on terror to justify -- is they're starting to target journalists who try to pierce the veil of secrecy and find things and put them in the newspapers.
Now, in the past what the government has always done is go after the people who leak, the inside people. That's the way they try to stop leaks.
This is the first administration that I can remember, including Nixon's, that said -- and Porter Goss said this to Congress -- that we need to think about a law that would put journalists who print national security things to...
KURTZ: Right. Let me briefly...
GERGEN: ... bring them up in front of grand juries and put them in jail if they don't -- in effect, if they don't reveal their sources.
KURTZ: ... get to Linda Douglass.
DOUGLASS: And the Justice Department is talking about using a pre-World War I law to prosecute people who receive classified information. That could be journalists. So now they're talking about potentially prosecuting journalists who simply receive information.
KURTZ: We will be talking about this on many programs to come. Perhaps with all of you.