The Justice Department's investigation and surveillance of the Associated Press and Fox News have led to perhaps the most sustained wave of criticism for the Obama administration's media policies since the president took office.
On Wednesday, the New York Times became one of the more influential voices to say what many others have been saying: that the administration's methods are an attack on press freedom.
In a scathing editorial, the Times wrote that, "With the decision to label a Fox News television reporter a possible 'co-conspirator' in a criminal investigation of a news leak, the Obama administration has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news."
The Times editorial described the Obama administration as going "overboard" with its investigations into leaks and threatening press freedom. The board added:
Obama administration officials often talk about the balance between protecting secrets and protecting the constitutional rights of a free press. Accusing a reporter of being a 'co-conspirator,' on top of other zealous and secretive investigations, shows a heavy tilt toward secrecy and insufficient concern about a free press.
The Times editorial was just one in a chorus of hard-hitting attacks on Obama's media policy that have surfaced in the wake of the Justice Department investigations. Journalists were outraged by the inquiries into the AP and Fox News reporter James Rosen. In particular, members of the media took issue with the Justice Department labeling Rosen a possible "co-conspirator" in a leak case for the crime of trying to get a source to give up information.
The New Yorker reported on Tuesday that the investigation into Rosen was even broader than previously suspected, as the DOJ seized records from at least five different numbers used by Fox News and two different White House lines.
That followed the Associated Press' revelation that the DOJ had secretly obtained months of phone records for at least seven individual journalists across 20 phone lines while searching for the government official responsible for leaking information about a CIA-thwarted terror plot.
Obama's hyper-aggressive leak policy—and his administration's potential equation of routine journalistic interaction with criminality—is nothing new. But the fury in the pages and on the websites of elite outlets about these positions certainly is.
The Times' criticism echoed that of many other journalists and press freedom groups.
On Tuesday, the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists sent an outraged letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, in which it warned that the DOJ's secret subpoenas for over 20 AP phone lines "represent a damaging setback for press freedom in the United States." This came on the heels of a letter signed by over 50 media outlets which made similar arguments.
Wednesday also saw Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank lash out at Obama:
The Rosen affair is as flagrant an assault on civil liberties as anything done by George W. Bush’s administration, and it uses technology to silence critics in a way Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of.
To treat a reporter as a criminal for doing his job — seeking out information the government doesn’t want made public — deprives Americans of the First Amendment freedom on which all other constitutional rights are based. Guns? Privacy? Due process? Equal protection? If you can’t speak out, you can’t defend those rights, either.