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KNIGHT: Drilled by the quill

Team Obama picked the wrong victim in targeting the media

- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2013

As a longtime, ink-stained wretch, I'm actually glad that some of the Obama administration's bombs targeting our essential liberties found their way out of the Tea Party kill zone and were dropped instead on the Fourth Estate.

Most of the media are the Obama administration's most loyal constituents. In fact, they may be the most loyal constituents after the reliable voters in Chicago's cemeteries.

A liberal administration targeting the media? It's like giving the dog that's been biting your opponents a swift kick in the head. The dog doesn't like it.

By seizing the phone records on 20 lines used by as many as 100 Associated Press reporters, and by treating Fox News Channel reporter James Rosen like a criminal defendant, the Justice Department has managed to get much of the media sore at them. Even the leftist Huffington Post had a May 30 column by Jonathan Turley calling for Mr. Holder to be fired.

The harassment of Mr. Rosen was so nosy and personal that you'd think it was the Internal Revenue Service running amok instead of the Justice Department. The administration probably thought they could get away with it, because Fox is disliked by the rest of the so-called mainstream media. Although not perfect, Fox has more balanced coverage and is whaling the tar out of its competition in ratings.

In any case, a line was crossed, and the media have taken notice. Mr. Rosen, who had been breaking stories on North Korea's nuclear threats, had his personal emails seized and was named as a possible "criminal co-conspirator" simply because he, like any good reporter, had elicited information from a government official. It's no crime, unless you're spying for a foreign country.

It was revealed that the government obtained records for several Fox bureau phone numbers and even a line that matches that of Mr. Rosen's parents.

Spy novelist Mary Louise Kelly writes in the Atlantic that if you tried to peddle this scandal as fiction, book editors would dismiss it as too far-fetched.

"It takes an unusually egregious misstep by an administration to unite journalists from Fox News and Mother Jones in outrage," she writes. "But that's what the Rosen affair has accomplished."

Last week, CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson said her computer has been "compromised" for more than two years. She doesn't know who is responsible, but doesn't rule out the Justice Department.

As the Huffington Post observed, "Attkisson has long been a thorn in the side of the White House, and a hero to conservatives, for her aggressive reporting on the incident in Benghazi and on the 'Fast and Furious' controversy."

The Wall Street Journal notes that the Obama administration has been cultivating academic supporters. An anonymous email sent by "an administration security official" to a former Washington Post editorial writer at the Brookings Institution provided the talking point that Mr. Rosen "was actively asking people to violate the law, and enabling them to do so."

I don't recall similar concerns when The New York Times published the classified Pentagon Papers back in 1971.

The Journal sarcastically notes, "Had [Mr. Rosen] merely sat passively and received the leak, that would have been fine. The dangerous ignorance here about journalism and the First Amendment is astounding. In the real world, reporters coax and wheedle and flatter. They even use 'false names' the way Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward worked 'Deep Throat' to expose the Watergate scandal.

The administration is doing major damage control. Mr. Holder gave an interview to the Daily Beast, the result of which was a May 28 article entitled: "Holder's Regrets and Repairs: How the attorney general feels about his own role in the Fox News case — and how he plans to prevent it from happening again."

I have a very simple solution, but let's move on.

Mr. Holder has gone on a charm offensive on Capitol Hill. On May 25, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, announced the formation of another bipartisan "gang of eight" to press for a media shield law. We already have such a law — it's called the First Amendment.

Mr. Holder is also trying to meet with journalists to tamp down the fires — but only on his terms. On Thursday, he met off the record with Politico's editor-in-chief, John Harris, and representatives from The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Daily News, according to Fox News.

The injured parties — Fox, The Associated Press and CBS News — along with CNN and the Huffington Post, declined to meet with Mr. Holder off the record.

In all the major scandals — the Benghazi killings and cover-up, the Justice Department's seizure of reporters' phone records and emails, and the IRS' persecution of the Tea Parties, Mr. Holder and President Obama seem like clueless parents who are constantly outraged and amazed.

Sitting in for radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday, Mark Steyn had fun with this. He said, and I paraphrase, "Forget the CIA. Forget the IRS. There's a whole new agency that we need to worry about. It's called the executive branch, and the president has no idea what it's up to."

With multiple investigations on Capitol Hill and the release of damning inspector general reports, these scandals have legs, despite the best efforts of the administration and its still-loyal media allies.

Their insistent ploy that "everybody does this stuff; there's nothing to see here," is bombing, big time.

Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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