Jacob Heilbrunn

Obama's Preposterous War Against Fox News' James Rosen

Here is the depth to which the Obama administration has sunk: "If you’re asking me whether the president believes that journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs, the answer is no.” So said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Good to know. Presumably, reporters everywhere are relieved to know that Obama thinks it's OK if they continue to trying to ferret out information.

Carney, himself a former reporter, felt obliged to reassure his jittery colleagues because of the latest leak case to embarrass the administration. It centers on James Rosen, an industrious and shrewd and affable reporter for Fox News. Rosen, if I may say so, is not the first person who leaps to mind as "at the very least, either . . . an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator" in an espionage case allegedly directed at the U.S. government. Rosen, who is a friend of mine, has always been a staunch conservative, a foreign-policy hawk, and an expert on subjects ranging from the Beatles and Watergate. But to suppose that Rosen would be involved in trying to subvert the American government is about as plausible as the idea that Obama secretly wants to slash taxes on the wealthy.

Yet this is apparently the conclusion that the the Obama administration arrived at a few years ago when it decided to go snooping through Rosen's emails. Its conclusion was that Rosen is, in fact, a criminal because he went chasing after a story about North Korea that the administration disliked. Enter the Obama plumbers. Rosen's offense was apparently suggesting to a State Department source, "Let's break some news and expose muddle-headed policy when we see it, or force the administration's hand to go in the right direction, if possible." As bizarre as the case may be it is, however, not a trivial one. As Dana Milbank correctly notes in the Washington Post, this may be the most flagitious example of the Obama administration's war on civil liberties.

According to Milbank,

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.

The irony, of course, is that Rosen, who wrote a book defending the record of Richard Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell, is now caught up in a fresh violation of civil liberties. Obama entered office claiming he would be the most transparent president in history. He is nothing of the kind. Instead, he has embarked upon an effort to suppress press freedoms, including the Justice Department's monitoring of the AP, that should give pause to anyone who believes that presidential administrations should not be allowed to operate as though they were medieval kingdoms immune to scrutiny and criticism. Obama may claim that he was unaware of the actions that were taken by his subordinates—where have we heard that before?—but the cold, hard truth is that his obsession with quashing leaks and suppressing what he views as illegal activity has led his own administration to act in a criminal fashion. The only question is who else the administration may have targeted? Come on, fess up.

Obama could help rectify his mistakes by inviting Rosen into the Oval Office for an interview and apologizing for the actions of his minions. I suspect that given what an engaging fellow Rosen is they might actually hit if off. But if Obama retreats into petulant silence or angrily dismisses the notion that he could be a party to violations of civil liberties, then his administration will have donned the shirt of Nessus, immolating itself on its partisan desire to silence any real or perceived detractors.