Candice Miller: The press finally wakes up to the Obama nightmare

May 28, 2013

Like many Americans, my initial reaction to recent reports that the Obama administration was aggressively investigating news media organizations (the Associated Press, Fox News & CBS News) involved in leaking sensitive national security information was mixed.

On one hand, this administration has had a troubling tendency to aggressively assert the power of the government into every corner of American life — from the federal takeover of our health care system to the job-killing, over-regulation of our economy. On the other, the target of the leaks investigations was the news media, which has served as the president’s amen chorus for most of that agenda. But like the blind pig and the acorn, news media moguls outraged over the wholesale seizure of reporter phone records (AP), the secret tracking of a journalist’s movements (Fox News) and the suspected hacking of a reporter’s computer (CBS) may be on to something.

At last, a scandal they can believe in.

This is not to minimize the legitimacy of any administration’s desire to protect important national security interests. As vice chairwoman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I am acutely aware of the need to shield vital information about intelligence gathering methods and sources from our enemies. Nor am I in the habit of reflexively condemning every exercise of power by the Obama administration. But the potential criminalization of standard journalistic practices of source development, news-gathering and reporting on issues of undeniable public interest strikes at the heart of what it means to live in a free society.

The case of James Rosen at Fox News is especially troubling. Rosen, chief correspondent for Fox in Washington, reported in 2009 on a classified report predicting that North Korea planned to respond to U.S.-led sanctions by detonating a nuclear device. In a 2010 affidavit in support of a search warrant for Rosen’s e-mail and records of his movements in government facilities (that was withheld from public scrutiny until this month), an FBI agent characterized the reporter as a potential co-conspirator in a criminal act to leak the report.

An analyst with whom Rosen had contact was later charged with espionage. Attorney General Eric Holder has said he does not expect to bring charges against the journalist.

Regardless of the merits of the prosecution, the treatment of Rosen — and the overall record of the Obama administration in pursuing alleged national security leaks — stands in sharp contrast to the practice of previous administrations, Republican and Democrat. During the Bush administration, the New York Times and the Washington Post both reported on highly sensitive intelligence practices (involving surveillance of suspected terrorist banking records and interrogations) in ways that clearly compromised the nation’s ability to protect our allies and informants and gather crucial information on terrorist networks. Such national security implications were not readily apparent in Rosen’s reporting.

The Obama administration insists there were no political considerations involved in the investigation of Fox News. Yet, coming on the heels of revelations about IRS scrutiny of conservative and tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status and the administration’s public relations campaign to obscure facts about the lethal attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the president’s protestations ring hollow.

This White House has exhibited a disturbing tendency to characterize its political adversaries as enemies of the state, signals that can hardly have escaped government officials at every level.

It was encouraging this week to see the news media’s reaction to this tendency. Perhaps they will support needed congressional hearings into this version of administration overreach. Hearings on how pervasive the investigation of journalists has become, how the investigations are being run and who is directing them.

Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican, represents Michigan’s 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House.