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3 Ways to Strengthen Press Freedom at the U.S. Justice Department

July 3, 2013

By Josh Stearns

One of the most troubling things about the politicians and pundits who are calling for Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s prosecution, calling him an accomplice to Edward Snowden’s leaks, is that just a month ago we saw the same language coming out of the Justice Department itself. Before the National Security Agency leaks captured the nation’s attention, a series of revelations about the DOJ’s assault on press freedom shook the journalism community.

Using a secret subpoena, the Justice Department had collected the phone records for Associated Press reporters and editors as part of an investigation into military leaks. In another leak investigation, the Department had subjected a Fox News reporter to extensive surveillance after labeling him “an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak investigation. More recently, McClatchy recently reported on an administration-wide effort to crack down on whistleblowers called Insider Threat in which “leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”

Given this context, the reckless comments we’ve seen about Greenwald hit a little too close to home. In our current political climate, these are not idle threats. Benjamin Wheeler sums it up succinctly in the Los Angeles Times, writing that “American investigative journalists who receive secret information are increasingly feeling the threat of government prosecution.”

The good news is that the blowback from the Justice Department’s overreach is having an impact. President Barack Obama ordered a review of the Justice Department’s actions, and Attorney General Eric Holder has admitted that these cases were handled poorly.

And, after a series of semi-off-the-record meetings with newsrooms and press freedom groups, Holder solicited feedback on how to revise the agency’s internal guidelines for dealing with the press.

This is a hopeful development, but as the deadline passes for providing that feedback to the agency (Friday the 28th was the last day to submit recommendations) there are real questions about what will happen next, who will be protected by the revised rules and who won’t be.

As journalism professor Jay Rosen has noted, the attacks on Greenwald have been premised on the notion that he is something other than a journalist. The prime example here is David Gregory who, in Rosen’s words, tried to “read Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian out of the journalism club.” Read the rest of the story at Media Shift.

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