New Castle News

News Bloggers

May 20, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: Snooping threat to the free press

NEW CASTLE — In “All the President’s Men,” reporter Bob Woodward conducts late-night meetings with a source in a parking garage.

That source, Deep Throat (later revealed to be high-ranking FBI official Mark Felt), was worried that he would be exposed as a tipster in the Watergate scandal.

The idea of a clandestine chat in a dark, empty parking garage sounds a bit silly when you stop and think about it. One would suppose the two men could find some quiet, out-of-the way location to meet and still enjoy privacy.

But Felt wasn’t taking any chances. And perhaps he had good reason to be cautious. What’s happening now with the Justice Department and The Associated Press is a lesson in journalistic prudence and the power of government.

As you may know, Justice officials obtained a vast array of AP phone logs, without ever telling the news organization it was gathering the information. While these records did not reveal actual conversations, they show who was talking to who over a period of time.

The reason for the search involves a news leak last year regarding a terrorist case in Yemen, where an unidentified source told The AP about the thwarting of an attack and the infiltration of the al-Qaida organization in that country.

Supposedly, The AP report had the effect of exposing an undercover agent, thus threatening national security. This prompted the Justice Department investigation, to identify the source and possibly charge that individual with violating national security laws.

Now, the government may have legitimate concerns about this leak. But what it did with the AP appears to be little more than a fishing expedition — except instead of using a hook, Justice employed dynamite — on the chance something might float to the surface.

This isn’t how law enforcement and criminal investigations are supposed to work in an America with a Bill of Rights. Such matters as probable cause and search warrants come into play. The power of government to gobble up private records and sift through them is supposed to be limited.

Defenders of the Justice action argue that phone records tell very little. But an enterprising and ethically challenged intelligence agent could have a field day with this sort of data. And it may have absolutely nothing to do with national security. Sources contact The AP with all manner of tips and information.

But perhaps they won’t in the future if they worry someone in government is going to be able to track them down and expose them. That’s the real danger of using heavy-handed tactics to scoop up the records of news organizations.

The revelation regarding The AP’s phone records has caused quite a dustup in Washington, with Republicans attacking the Obama administration for what happened. Interestingly, the president turned around and renewed his support for a federal shield law that would help to protect journalists from such government intrusion in their activities.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has reintroduced shield law legislation in Congress. It will be interesting to see if lawmakers who are attacking the administration are willing to back that up with votes to protect the press.

They should. This isn’t about one national security incident. This is about the ability of a free press to do its job and ultimately hold government accountable. If the powers that be can frighten sources into silence, all Americans suffer.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
News Bloggers
  • Drespling.jpg Josh Drespling: One man's collection of old 8-track tapes is another man's treasure

    This past weekend, my daughter and I traveled the rolling countryside of Western Pennsylvania. We visited a number of farmer’s markets, flea markets, and garage sales. We were in search of nothing in particular, but hoped for some good cucumbers and possibly a great deal on sweetcorn.

    August 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Church.jpg Gary Church: I tried to keep my cool, but if anyone didn't like my contribution to the party, I might have a meltdown
    Sometimes you get invited to an employee only luncheon. I recently went to one of these at the News office. There is only one rule, everyone must bring something. This is a little difficult for me, because I don't know how to cook anything.
     

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Question-mark-scratch-head.jpg Tim Kolodziej: We’re swimming in information — and uncertainty

    “Who can you believe anymore?” I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me that question. Let’s face it, there are no longer two sides to every story. In some cases, there are hundreds, if not thousands.
     

    July 31, 2014 2 Photos

  • Potato.jpg The Couch Potato: "The Bachelorette" semi-live blog

    Here we go folks: “The Bachelorette” finale is under way and of course we’re being inundated with sweeping helicopter shots of beaches and exotic locations while Chris Harrison is telling us how dramatic this upcoming episode will be. Classic opening for “The Bachelorette,” as always.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Huston.jpg Greg Huston: Readers (a few anyway) respond on Alvarez

    Last week I asked readers to share their thoughts on what the Pirates should do with the struggling Pedro Alvarez and we’ll get to that in a minute. For some background, Alvarez has two years left on his deal and makes a modest salary of 4.25 million this season (modest in terms of baseball salaries as paying me 4.25 million dollars for anything would be gladly accepted). His salary will likely increase the next two seasons through arbitration. 

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Church.jpg Gary Church: As you may have noticed, I'm not Lisa
    Surprise, surprise, surprise! The big cheese called me, and asked if I would mind if my blogs appeared on Monday, instead of on Tuesday. I had no problem with that.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drespling.jpg Josh Drespling: Time flies when you're growing up

    Where does the time go? Just a moment ago, it was Monday, and now here we sit at the opposite end of another week. Seems like a matter of seconds and this month has slipped off into oblivion. I swear I only blinked and spring had been stripped from our hands. I don't dare close my eyes for another moment’s rest or my whole life may disappear.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Church.jpg Gary Church: Grab your sisters and your mothers, it's an ice cream 'convent'-ion
    To keep my nice figure, I like to go to Forbush's at least once a week. This is also my entertainment for the night.  We sit there for an hour or so, watching people. Last week, a group arrived that I had never seen before.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • johnnyswim.jpg Tim Kolodziej: What is your definition of The Dream?

    Johnnyswim. I know, I know. Me neither. I had no idea what that word meant until a couple of months ago, when a friend of mine on Twitter was absolutely gushing about a great concert he had just seen.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Potato.jpg The Couch Potato: Does "House of Cards" crumble or stand?

    The old Couch Potato has been methodically working my way through the hit Netflix series, “House of Cards,” over the past few weeks and let me just say, it’s pretty good. 

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Poll

Before this weekend's release of the new Marvel film, which previous 'guardians of the galaxy' were your favorite?

The Federation/Star Fleet
The Green Lantern Corps
Jedi Knights
Earth Alliance (Babylon 5)
Space Ghost, Jan, Jace and Blip
     View Results