It is no secret that President Barack Obama has little use for the media or respect for its practitioners. So is it any wonder that Mr. Obama gave Eric Holder, a man with even less regard for the press than his boss, a mandate to direct the Department of Justice to crack down on leaks in general and journalists in particular?
Earlier this month, Washington erupted with the news that the Justice Department monitored 20 phone lines belonging to The Associated Press in an attempt to uncover the identity of a government source the Obama administration insisted endangered national security. The administration leans on the Espionage Act of 1917 for its rationale.
As many as 100 AP reporters and their sources may have been compromised as a result of the government's unhindered access to several weeks' worth of phone records. There was no prior warning by the government that gave the AP a chance to appeal such an extreme fishing expedition.
Last week, we learned that the Justice Department secretly obtained phone and email records of Fox News reporter James Rosen. Mr. Rosen is guilty of doing what reporters do every day -- talk to government sources and report what they hear. In Mr. Rosen's case, he didn't even disseminate classified material -- only a government informant's opinion about what North Korea might do in response to some perceived provocation by the U.N. Security Council.
For that "offense," Mr. Rosen was targeted as a criminal co-conspirator of the leaker and tracked by the FBI. Still, unlike the State Department analyst who leaked the information and is currently being prosecuted, Mr. Rosen hasn't been charged with any crime, which makes the monitoring of his movements and the reading of his mail all the more sinister.
By making the very act of reporting a possible criminal offense, the Obama administration has set itself up for an epic battle. On one side, there is a zealous, but misguided Justice Department determined to plug all leaks. On the other is the U.S. Constitution and the American media determined to defend their First Amendment rights. It should not have come to this.