It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who famously said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. Applied here, it would work something like this: Fox News isn’t a legitimate news organization and it should in no way be afforded any of the benefits or considerations normally given to legitimate news organizations, up to and including the umbrella of unequivocal constitutional protection real journalism outlets can expect; that said, the Department of Justice and the White House are 100% wrong in their seizing of Fox News phone records, monitoring of Fox correspondent James Rosen’s comings and goings, and their naming of him as a potential co-conspirator in the leaking of national security information.
Of all the horseshit scandals President Obama’s enemies on the right have attempted to float since he took office four years ago, the persecution and threatened prosecution of newspeople allegedly involved in reporting on state secrets is the only one that has any actual merit. Drones are nonsense; Benghazi is the most ado about a non-story in recent Republican memory; the IRS looking into conservative political groups potentially trying to scam the government shouldn’t surprise a soul; and of course birth certificates, teleprompters, and Marines-holding-umbrellas are just fucking laughable. But the notion of the U.S. government monitoring journalists for doing the very jobs that make them who and what they are is frightening and it should anger just about everyone, regardless of his or her political affiliations.
It’s ironically no big secret that Fox News will do anything to bring down the Obama administration and prop up its confederates in the Republican party proper, to the point of even creating stories and scandals out of thin air; it’s for this reason that no one with a brain ever should have had a problem with Obama refusing to treat Fox as if it were just like any other news operation. But that doesn’t mean the DOJ should have wide latitude to make a reporter — any reporter — worry about being prosecuted for treason and doing prison time simply for being a reporter. Obviously, it’s important that even journalists understand that they have to behave responsibly, particularly when they’re reporting on sensitive subjects — however, it’s impossible to overstate how unwise it is for the U.S. government and the Obama administration in particular to make threats against the messengers in their quest to stamp out what they claim is an illegal message.
Collecting phone logs from the AP and closely watching James Rosen at Fox, all without contacting either outlet during the respective investigations, is something entirely new for the government, and something undeniably chilling. While national security is important and that shouldn’t be diminished, journalists do generally have special dispensation simply by virtue of their constitutional protection and what’s supposed to be their often adversarial relationship with those in power. Sure, the White House can behave as if that adversarial relationship works both ways and can treat journalists as hostile, but it had better be prepared to face the consequences of that tack. Fox News’s audience and its stable of frothing-at-the-mouth contributors don’t need a legitimate reason to loudly proclaim that the right is being persecuted by the Obama administration, but likewise the White House should be smart enough to understand that it doesn’t need the image of real journalists suddenly siding with Fox News and coming to the network’s defense. Just because Glenn Greenwald and his insufferable ilk are going to be claiming villainy at every turn regardless doesn’t mean Obama should give them any ammo.
On that note, another dichotomy at work here is the outrage from Obama’s enemies over what the White House and the Justice Department have been doing with regard to plugging leaks. Again, the White House is wrong here and has no viable excuse, but it’s laughable to watch the very same people who took state security so seriously during the Bush years that they engaged in the despicable politics of personal vendetta — outing Valerie Plame, leaving any journalist not willing to get onboard the Iraq crazy train out in the cold — now railing with righteous indignation against some of the very tactics they would’ve once applauded. Fox News, in fact, played right along with the Bush-era policy of manipulating and demonizing the legitimate media. Conservatives as a whole, meanwhile, would’ve happily strung up, say, Julian Assange and absolutely considered Daniel Ellsberg an enemy of the state, but the government sets its sites on the official news service of Red State America and suddenly there’s hell to pay.
The problem is, this time those coming to the defense of Fox News — be they conservative or liberal or none-of-the-above — are right. James Rosen’s a sniveling little turd and he works for a news outlet that’s anything but. Still, he needs to be free to report the word of whistleblowers because it’s not simply his freedom that’s at stake.
It’s the freedom of all journalists to do their jobs. And when those jobs are done correctly, it serves the freedom of all of us.