When Freedom of The Press Isn’t Upheld; Response to AP Phone Tapping Scandal

The sanctity of a journalist’s sources is what allows reporters to delve into a story to find the most compelling and interesting aspects to bring to life.  It can be a morally difficult path to follow, gathering information on sensitive topics, or interviewing people with sorted backgrounds, all while keeping your sources anonymous.  However, the necessity to supply investigative news is the only way to educate people on what is really going on behind closed doors.

It’s a journalists right thanks to the First Amendment to keep the identity of their sources private, to ensure that they are able to continually obtain news from individuals without their sources feeling as though they could be prosecuted for whatever role they played in disseminating their story.  But when should the First Amendment – freedom of the press, take a backseat?

The Department of Justice recently came under fire after the Associated Press announced that their phone lines had been tapped by the government.  Between the months of April and May of 2012 the government seized the phone records of 20 separate telephone lines, including personal cell phones, assigned to the AP and it’s journalists.  It’s unknown just how many journalists used the phone lines during that time, but more than 100 work in the offices where phone conversations were recorded.

The government took the issue of national security above the constitution, suggesting that they had no other alternatives to obtain the information that they were looking for, information that they have yet to state whether they obtained or not.

The follow-up to the uncovered scandal has been less than apologetic as President Obama declared during a news conference that there needs to be a “balance” between national security and freedom of the press.

“Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” said Obama, “U.S. national security is dependent upon those folks being able to operate with confidence that folks back home have their backs, so they’re not just left out there high and dry.”

He continued to say, “I make no apologies and I don’t think that the American people would expect me as Commander-in-Chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”

The AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt, disagreed and sent a letter of protest to Attorney General Eric Holder stating that the government obtained information far beyond anything that could be related to a specific investigation.  He demanded that the phone records be returned and that all copies be destroyed.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” Pruitt said in an interview with The New York Times.  “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”

The Justice Department responded to Pruitt’s letter with their own, offering no explanation for the seizure.

As the government stands behind their decision to disregard the First Amendment and the AP continues to seek answers, it appears as though this debate is at a standstill.  This makes you wonder why freedom of the press was included in the Bill of Rights in the first place only to be ignored.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and FoxNews.com.
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