Government isn’t

media’s friend

June 25th, 2015 7:35 am

First Posted: 5/17/2013

So, the U.S. Department of Justice borrowed a couple months of telephone records from offices of The Associated Press.

It’s not the hottest fire that’s been lit beneath President Barack Obama in his second term — both the Benghazi deaths and the shenanigans by the IRS trump it — but it may turn out that this particular action has the most long-lasting ramifications for politicians and the media.

The national media needed a wake-up call. This should qualify. We here at the community-news level can only hope so, because there are plenty of us in the trenches shaking our heads at the way information is presented and the way the media are represented these days.

The media are people, and they are a professional community. An offense made against one is an offense against all, for those of us who are as fierce and unwavering in the protection of our First Amendments rights as many others (and some of us) are about their Second.

We are supposed to be the watchdogs and the questioners, the skeptics and cynics, the tellers of uncomfortable truths. But for years, it’s been more about gaining access, getting some tidbit of exclusivity at the expense of our standing, our trustworthiness to the people for whom we are providing the information — the readership, the people who don’t have time and aren’t paid to gather and present the information but who need it just the same.

We’re not supposed to be A-list celebrities. We’re not supposed to be friendly with those whose

business we are to watch and, as necessary, expose. We’re not supposed to turn a blind eye to inconvenient truths because not doing so might cost us a big-splash byline somewhere down the line.

These are things that should have been taught, if not in journalism classes then at least where the teaching is most effective: On the job, by those who have gone before and those who remember and understand what the job is and how it should be done.

Somewhere along the line, with the cozying-up and coddling and back-scratching and nod-and-wink understanding, journalists have lost the proper definition of themselves. We are to stand not beside those in power but at odds with them — not in a cruel way but in a way designed to report information, accurately and without bias, that should see the light of day.

No, we’re more interested today in theater, in presenting 30 seconds of information followed by a five-minute, three-way screaming session as talking heads from all sides of the debate pitch ineffectual hissy fits at one another before the network cuts to commercial.

Now, we, the media, find ourselves targets of the government. We were targeted because the AP was doing its job, running a story that the government found inconvenient — the result of leaks from within the administration.

The Obama administration does not like leaks, except those they design themselves.

So when an AP story ran on May 7, 2012, detailing a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States, the administration wanted to know who squawked.

There’s a second probe involving a New York Times story about the Stuxnet computer virus, developed by the U.S. and Israel to befoul Iran’s computer systems developing its nuclear program.

But it’s the AP story that has legs right now. There are fighting words coming from the journalists’ corner — as there should be.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” said AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt.

He’s right. It’s not so much that the government’s action has a chilling effect on First Amendment freedoms. It’s more like a deep freeze.

It should be a call to action for all journalists.

Lebanon Daily News (Lebanon, Pa.)