A year ago, The Associated Press broke a story about the Central Intelligence Agency's disruption of a Yemen-based plot to blow up an airliner. Afterward, the Obama administration initiated an aggressive pursuit of the federal employee who leaked the classified information to the AP.
It goes without saying that presidents, regardless of political party, rarely appreciate the media when they're in office. The Obama administration's attempt to plug future leaks by indicting six current and former government officials for disclosing national security information to reporters is, unfortunately, par for the course for this president. The fact that the Justice Department is prosecuting twice the number of suspected leakers than previous administrations should embarrass the Obama White House, but it doesn't.
On Monday, the AP revealed that, in February, federal investigators had obtained a subpoena from a grand jury to seize two months of reporters' and editors' phone records without prior notice. The AP was not told by the department why the records, which included information about journalists' home and cell phones, were seized, but the assumption is that they are related to the search for the source of the AP's May 7, 2012, story on the foiled bomb plot.
AP president Gary Pruitt expressed the outrage of all journalists and defenders of the First Amendment in a sharply worded letter to Attorney General Eric Holder: "There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.
"These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news gathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's news gathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations the government has no conceivable right to know."
Mr. Holder, who recused himself from the AP case early on, defended pursuit of the source, saying, "This was a very, very serious leak" that "put the American people at risk."
But the rash step of seizing reporters' phone records creates a sickening feeling of deja vu in many U.S. newsrooms as journalists witness the spectacle of another administration buoyed by the hubris of re-election and overreaching in disturbing ways.
Ultimately, it is the president's attitude toward the media that allows for this overreach to take place, even if he didn't order it personally. As long as the White House believes it is justified in pursuing news sources as if they're terrorists, such abuses of the press will continue.
This disregard for First Amendment freedoms does a disservice to the public as well. Mr. Obama and his legacy could pay a high price if such unwarranted scrutiny continues.