The Obama administration is guilty of broad overreach in how it has hunted for government sources who may have leaked highly classified and important information to the news media, particularly in the Associated Press matter. That being said, much of the news media is overreacting; and the Congress and public should be very wary of enacting so-called "shield laws."
On the opposite page today, we publish Washington Post writer Walter Pincus' column on the issue, specifically the case involving Fox News reporter James Rosen and information about North Korea. Pincus nicely takes the news media to task for concentrating much more on their own self-interest than on the legitimate and equally serious issue of our government's right and duty in protecting sensitive information whose revelations can cause real damage, even death.
In the AP case, the story it broke told Islamic terrorists that a double-agent had been in their midst. We are not sure that the AP's editors are better equipped than CIA and other government officers to decide what damage could have been caused by leaking that information.
In the case of Fox News, the information revealed about North Korean nuclear abilities let that Stone Age despotism know that it, too, had been infiltrated by western agents. That's pretty serious stuff, considering how volatile and dangerous that country is right now.
Pincus lays out the issues and says the news media's high dudgeon over a search warrant reference to Rosen as a possible "co-conspirator" is misplaced.
He points out that the use of the term does not mean that the government was necessarily "going after" Rosen. But he also notes that no one, in or out of the news media, is above the law.
We find the naming of Rosen in court as a possible criminal co-conspirator a very concerning precedent, though Pincus is probably right that it does not indicate a move toward prosecution in this case.
We hold no brief for the Obama administration, to be sure. So stunned is it by liberal news media criticism, it is now embracing a "shield law" as well.
That is something that could easily backfire on press and public alike. Besides, the news media and the public already have the best shield of all: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."