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Abuse of power (05/22/2013)
By Frances Edstrom


President Obama’s administration has crossed a line that has, since the inception of this country, protected a most fundamental freedom of the press.

You may be sick of hearing about freedom and the Constitution and amendments, sick of the outspoken people on either side of the perpetual argument over rights in this country. It’s easy to feel that way, bombarded as we are by 24-hour media and “talking heads.”

Be warned, however, that not paying attention to our rights and freedoms is a dangerous stance to take. These rights and freedoms are but a dictator away from disappearing entirely. Then, life in the U.S. would be much, much different — think Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela.

So why must we pay attention to the Obama administration’s recent attack on freedom of the press? Reporter James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News (let me finish), was targeted by the government as “an aider, an abettor, and/or a co-conspirator.” Using that charge, the government was able to get a search warrant to spy on Rosen’s personal emails. They also got access to the emails of the State Department employee they suspected of leaking information to Rosen.

Government employees who have access to sensitive material must sign an agreement saying they will not reveal that material to anyone. Media reporters, who are protected by the First Amendment, do not. Nor do they have any responsibility to the government beyond that of any citizen. It would be entirely within the rights of the U.S. government to ask, or demand, its employees not to leak sensitive information to the press. But it is not within the government’s scope to secretly spy on reporters, or citizens for that matter, who have not broken a law. Just as the police must have a legal reason to stop you on the street or in your car, the Obama administration must have a legal reason to interfere with your work.

The media in a democracy is charged with keeping the public informed of the facts surrounding government action. The reason for that charge is clear. Without oversight by the public, those in government could easily subject the people of this country to totalitarian rule — abusing personal power and denying the rights of the populace without any restraint of law.

With a free press shining light on government action — from the White House to City Hall — we are much more likely to avoid living in a dictatorship. What do repressive governments do first? They take away freedom of the press and put in a government-controlled press. Think, for instance, of Tass in the Soviet Union, People’s Daily in China, Diario VEA in Venezuela.

You may be tempted to dismiss such invasive government action against the much-maligned Fox News. But without the freedom of reporters to dig into government action the people would not know about things as important as Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, Benghazi, or even John Edwards’ mistress.

A government that is allowed with impunity to shackle the United States press is a government that is flirting dangerously with dictatorship. A citizenry that does not care or act about such blatant abuse of power is one on the brink of losing its freedoms — all of them.



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