Following news that the Trump administration is readying charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and other whistleblowers, some mainstream media outlets are pondering whether the Justice Department could also go after reporters who covered the leaks. And Attorney Jeff Sessions won’t say whether the concerns are justified.
After several comments about Assange’s lack of 1st Amendment protections from top Trump officials in recent weeks, reports out late this week indicate that the government is ready to get serious about prosecuting Assange for publishing leaks dating back to 2010.
A big problem with the efforts and government insistence that Assange is a “a non-state hostile intelligence service,” is that his organization claims to have published only verifiably-true information in raw form. It’s also worth noting that most releases of information came with little commentary from the organization.
The vast trove of government information that ended up on WikiLeaks over the years has provided fodder for thousands of reports by mainstream and alternative media outlets regarding government abuses of privacy and human rights.
Sessions was asked Friday whether any of those organizations should be concerned by the government actions.
“Should folks be concerned this would also open up news organizations like CNN or the New York Times to prosecution?” CNN’s Kate Bolduan asked Sessions.
“That’s speculative, and I’m not able to comment on that,” Sessions responded.
The correct answer was ‘no.’
U.S. media should not fear government prosecution for publishing any document or information that is true, verifiable, and of public concern. That is true despite what career politicians in Washington, public officials with an interest in secrecy, may shout about national security concerns.
The president’s distaste for the mainstream media is duly noted.
“I am going to continue to attack the press. I find the press to be extremely dishonest. I find the political press to be unbelievably dishonest,” Trump said prior to the election.
It’s fine to distrust the press, advisable even. But anything that makes it harder for outlets, regardless of size and audience, to scrutinize government action is dangerous. And if attacks on the 1st Amendment are applied equally in the name of national security or eliminating seditious libel, or whatever, the implications for alternative media are serious.
This is a dangerous time for the 1st Amendment. Trust in American media is, deservedly, at an all-time low. And many of Trump’s supporters would be happy to limit MSM’s ability to publish unflattering stories about the administration. But remember, when you hear reporting that you disagree with and believe to be dishonest, you should celebrate diversity of opinion and set about finding the facts that confirm your suspicions.
If ever you should find yourself agreeing with every news report, feeling that the government is moving constantly in the right direction and never hearing a politician or public figure bitching about dishonest journalists and pundits, find your nearest flagpole.
At the top, you may see something like this:
If that’s the case, rest comfortably knowing that you live in a place where government’s efforts to “protect” its people are never stymied by challenges from a combative press.