From the Department of “Imagine If Republicans Did this Kind of Thing”

Wow:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) is riding a compelling Hillary Rodham Clinton story. It’s not so much about her quite-possible presidential run. Nor is it about the Clinton family’s foundation. Nor Benghazi. It’s about how Clinton is attempting the impossible: Turning a speech into something approaching an off-the-record occasion.

This morning, the former secretary of state was in Atlanta for a speaking engagement before the National Association of Convenience and Fuel Retailing (NACS). As the AJC reported yesterday, members of the media were barred from the session. Today it reported that a “cone of silence” had descended on her remarks. “Convention officials banned all video and sound recording, social media, and naturally, journalists,” wrote the AJC’s Greg Bluestein and Jim Galloway.

I am pretty sure that Hillary Clinton will indeed run for president again in 2016. I am also pretty sure that lots of people in the media share my assessment. Shouldn't they be calling Clinton out on her lack of transparency?

Guess Who Thinks Obamacare Might Need to Be Repealed

If you guessed "Tea Party Republicans," you only get partial credit.

Incidentally, while I am pleased that the New York Times is covering this story, my guess is that if a key portion of a Republican president's political base rebelled against one of said president's key policy initiatives, we would be hearing about it nonstop from just about every news media outlet there is.

This Week in Epistemic Closure

I have argued in the past that those who charge the Republican party with epistemic closure forget (conveniently or not) that there is plenty of epistemic closure in their ranks as well. But this does not mean that epistemic closure amongst Republicans should not be criticized.

So, let me go on record as stating that cherry-picking a convenient media forum for debates between Republican presidential candidates is a bad idea. I recognize that Republicans would like to have friendly moderators ask friendly questions of their candidates, but eventually, those candidates are going to have to confront potentially unfriendly moderators. Best that they learn how to joust successfully with unfriendly moderators early in the campaign; honing that particular skill from the outset could be useful to the candidates and to Republicans in general as the campaign goes on.

And let me also go on record as stating that purging Republicans who happen to disagree with certain planks in the Republican party platform is a really terrible idea. (Link via Charles Lipson.) Winners can afford to purge their ranks. Losers cannot, and given that the Republican party has picked up the unfortunate habit of losing elections, it currently qualifies as a loser party. To win, it has to expand its tent, not shrink it. And incidentally, whether or not one is a same-sex marriage supporter (and I am), who in their right mind thinks that opposing same-sex marriage is a political winner these days?

On Jeff Bezos and His Purchase of the Washington Post

Story here, naturally. Some not-so-random thoughts:

  • If Jeff Bezos really is the libertarianish fellow that a number of people are making him out to be, then I am very happy with the purchase.
  • If Jeff Bezos really is the libertarianish fellow that a number of people are making him out to be, then I wish that he bought the New York Times.
  • Jeff Bezos should try to buy the New York Times in addition to buying the Washington Post. It's not too late.1
  • Does this mean that I can put the Washington Post on my Amazon Wish List?
  • If Jeff Bezos wishes to purchase this blog for a nine figure sum, or even an eight figure one, I will be glad to sell it to him. I will, of course, miss blogging here. But not that much.
1. Of course, it would remain to be seen what the antitrust division of the Justice Department might have to say about any purchase of both the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Fantastically Good News

Everyone will be pleased to note that President Obama is going to give "a series of back-to-back speeches" on the economy. That's a series of two speeches in a row; surely a comfort to those who have lost jobs and lost economic ground during this administration, and who have to worry about how to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads and the heads of their families--never mind the idea of occasionally going out, taking vacations and having enough money to send the kids to college when the time comes. Since, as we all know, speeches from this president cure all ills, I am certain that the Roaring Teens are just around the corner. I am equally certain that the media needn't focus on the dismal performance of the economy during the lifetime of this administration--a focus they surely would not have neglected had a Republican been president since January 20, 2009.

Scandal Watch (The Saga that Won't End)

The latest:

  • The IRS targeting of conservative groups is only a "so-called scandal" in the eyes of some, who coincidentally, probably don't like conservatives all that much. Equally coincidental, I am sure, those calling the IRS scandal a "so-called scandal" are members of the media, which we are repeatedly assured is never ideologically biased and treats both sides of the partisan divide fairly and honorably.
  • Rich Lowry points out that the IRS scandal--which really is much more than a "so-called scandal"--"is a scandal of administrators and bureaucrats, of otherwise faceless people endowed with immense power over their fellow citizens and running free of serious oversight from elected officials." Which makes you feel good about all of the legislation passed that puts more power in these people's hands, right?
  • Eric Holder is in trouble, as he is facing possible perjury allegations regarding his comments on the Justice Department's investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen. He has responded to the allegations by inviting media outlets to a discussion with him on how the issue could have been better handled, and what can be done in the future to conduct leak investigations without shredding the First Amendment. Here's the catch: the discussion with the media outlets was supposed to be off the record. So presumably, Holder would discuss better ways to conduct leak investigations and media outlets could not tell the public--the same public that may actually be concerned about the shredding of the First Amendment--anything about his comments. To their credit, a host of media outlets refused to meet with Holder under these conditions. Oh, and the attorney general is “also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” over how the leak investigation was handled, which is nice to know. Too bad he refuses to let the public find out how his "creeping sense of personal remorse" will translate into a change in policy at the Justice Department.

Scandal Watch (A Continuing Series)

So, let's review the latest:

  • Concerning the IRS scandal, we learn that Lois Lerner was "directly involved" in the targeting of conservative groups. This included signing letters that contained "a list of detailed questions of the kind that a Treasury inspector general’s audit found to be inappropriate."
  • Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4), which means that it is supposed to act in a non-partisan capacity when engaging in advocacy. So naturally, the president of the United States--who is anything but non-partisan--has signed a fundraising letter on behalf of Organizing for Action, which includes a request to register at this site, which as you will note, contains the name of the non-non-partisan president of the United States in its URL. As of two weeks ago, Organizing for Action has not yet applied for tax-exempt status from the IRS, but I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that when they do, they will encounter no problems whatsoever with their application. To be sure, the IRS won't want to cause yet another scandal by giving yet another prominent 501(c)(4) applicant a hard time, but the point is that plenty of equivalent conservative groups have had to encounter a hard time at the hands of the IRS, while liberal groups have gotten nothing but the kindest cooperation.
  • I am pleased to note that Jonathan Turley has decided to continue to eat his Wheaties:
Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the administration's sweeping surveillance of journalists with the Associated Press. In the greatest attack on the free press in decades, the Justice Department seized phone records for reporters and editors in at least three AP offices as well as its office in the House of Representatives. Holder, however, proceeded to claim absolute and blissful ignorance of the investigation, even failing to recall when or how he recused himself.Yet, this was only the latest attack on the news media under Holder's leadership. Despite his record, he expressed surprise at the hearing that the head of the Republican National Committee had called for his resignation. After all, Holder pointed out, he did nothing. That is, of course, precisely the point. Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.

Like dumber follows dumb, the scandal of politicized IRS tax enforcement has been followed by calls for a "special prosecutor." Republicans are predictably leading this call against a Democratic Administration, but this is one case in which the GOP should hope it doesn't get its way.

The case for a special counsel is that Attorney General Eric Holder can't be trusted to investigate his Administration, and that the Administration will stonewall Congress. We don't trust Mr. Holder either, but letting him pass the buck to a special prosecutor is doing him a favor. This scandal is best handled in Congressional hearings that educate the public in the next year rather than wait two or three years for potential indictments.

In Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, the lead character is struck with amnesia, unable to remember critical events even as he’s trying to save the world. Let’s borrow that useful plot device and imagine if American journalists woke up and couldn’t remember who was president. It would be interesting to ask them a few questions:

What would you think of a president under whom the IRS targeted his harshest political opponents, during his reelection campaign?

What would you think of a president whose obsession with leaks and secrecy was so great that he used the Justice Department to obtain phone records of reporters, in violation of Justice’s established procedure?

What would you think of a president whose head of the Department of Justice signed a criminal warrant against a leading journalist working for the news organization most critical of the president—and monitored the movements of the journalist and even went after his mother’s phone records?

What would you think of an administration that directed the president’s press secretary repeatedly to deliver false information concerning the death of an American ambassador?

These are not hypothetical questions—and yet there is an entire class of journalist so invested in a certain moral and ethical image of the president its members are unable to entertain facts that might tarnish that image. They are the pro-Obama equivalent of Birthers, never letting emerging facts cloud the conclusion they’ve already committed to hold.

The same journalists who did not hesitate to assume the worst of previous Republican administrations—
E.J. Dionne, Walter Pincus, Jack Shafer, to name a few—are now tying themselves in knots trying to explain that there is nothing to see when the IRS probes Obama’s enemies or that the Justice Department secretly seizing the phone records of one of their peers and his mother was really a good thing. One has to wonder if it were their mother and her records, how that mother-son conversation would play out.

“Well, Mom, you know, the president has to do these things, and I’ve told you time and again not to email Aunt Sally about my sources. Is that any way to keep hope alive?”

Stevens was Mitt Romney's chief strategist in the 2012 presidential election. If he strategized as tough as he wrote this column, we might now have a new president.

The Washington Post Editorial Board Eats Its Wheaties

And comments powerfully on the case of James Rosen:

A FREE press in a democracy demands a delicate balance. The First Amendment means the media must have the right to inquire without hindrance. The government has a legitimate interest in keeping some national security information secret. When these come into conflict, the balance often has been struck this way: The media are free to pursue secrets, but it is up to those in government to keep them. When the media come into possession of information that, if disclosed, could be damaging, the government can plead the case for secrecy — and the media generally are open to persuasion.

Up to now, there have been no prosecutions of reporters under the 
1917 Espionage Act, a reflection of this balance in action.

The balance has been upset by an affidavit filed by the FBI in a criminal investigation into a national security leak. Special Agent Reginald B. Reyes asked a court to grant a search warrant for the e-mails of a reporter, James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent of Fox News, on grounds that 
Mr. Rosen is a “co-conspirator and/or aider and abettor” of the leak of classified information. The target of the criminal probe is Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who in 2009, when the leak occurred, was a State Department arms expert with a security clearance. The leak concerned intelligence information about North Korea.

What did the journalist do to become a potential criminal co-conspirator? According to the FBI agent, he “asked, solicited and encouraged” his source to disclose sensitive information. The reporter did this “by employing flattery” and playing to the “vanity and ego” of Mr. Kim. In other words, the journalist was doing what reporters do. Unfortunately, a judge signed off on this flimsy search warrant.

So did the attorney general of the United States.

Eric Holder: No Friend of Reporters

We now know that the attorney general of the United States signed off on a search warrant for the private e-mails of Fox News reporter James Rosen:

Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.

The disclosure of the attorney general’s role came as President Barack Obama, in a major speech on his counterterrorism policy, said Holder had agreed to review Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists.

"I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable," Obama said. "Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs."

Rosen, who has not been charged in the case, was nonetheless the target of a search warrant that enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seize his private emails after an FBI agent said he had "asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information."

Obama's comments follow a firestorm of criticism that has erupted over disclosures that in separate investigations of leaks of classified information, the Justice Department had obtained private emails that Rosen exchanged with a source and the phone records of Associated Press reporters.  

This all leads to a natural and obvious question: If "[j]ournalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," then why does the attorney general still have his job?

Lest We Forget . . .

There is another scandal that is hobbling the Obama administration. And it has even stirred the New York Times editorial board to outrage:

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 
latest reported episode involves James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News. In 2009, Mr. Rosen reported on FoxNews.com that North Korea planned to launch a missile in response to the condemnation of its nuclear tests by the United Nations Security Council. The Justice Department investigated the source of the article and later indicted Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department security adviser, on charges of leaking classified information. Mr. Kim pleaded not guilty.

Normally, the inquiry would have ended with Mr. Kim — leak investigations usually focus on the source, not the reporter. But, in this case, federal prosecutors also asked a federal judge for permission to examine Mr. Rosen’s personal e-mails, arguing that “there is probable cause to believe” Mr. Rosen is “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak.

An affidavit filed with the judge made it clear that Mr. Rosen’s comings and goings at the State Department were carefully monitored. It said further that he tried to elicit information by “employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego.” That would hardly be a first in the relationship between journalists and government officials, and, certainly, it is not grounds for a conspiracy charge. Though Mr. Rosen was not charged, the F.B.I. request for his e-mail account was granted secretly in late May 2010. The government was allowed to rummage through Mr. Rosen’s e-mails for at least 30 days. (The New Yorker
 reported Tuesday that Justice Department officials also seized phone records associated with White House staffers and Fox News as part of the Kim case.)

Michael Clemente, the executive vice president of Fox News, said on Monday that it was “downright chilling” that Mr. Rosen “was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter.” Bruce Brown, the executive director of the 
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, added on Tuesday that treating “routine news-gathering efforts as evidence of criminality is extremely troubling and corrodes time-honored understandings between the public and the government about the role of the free press.”

The Justice Department has gone so far as to seize the phone records of Rosen's parents. Because, of course, they were in on the conspiracy. Or something.