Monday, May 20, 2013

What You Really Should Fear

As another week begins, some of our colleagues in the national media unfortunately already seem intent on continuing to drag forward the news leftovers from last week - even though the blast of supposed "scandals" resulted in exactly no political damage to President Obama, much to the consternation of Republicans. 

That kind of political dysfunction, as E.J. Dionne notes, has a growing number of people worried about the state of democracies around the world. What those same people should be worried about is that too often, the voters in those democracies are no longer hearing the kinds of news items from the media they need to make informed, educated decisions - including right here in America.

For example, over the weekend, it was confirmed that Republican Rep. Darrell Issa - one of the chief screamers about the IRS controversy - apparently knew about the IRS investigation nearly a year ago, in July 2012. Yet, when Issa grills former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman this week, we can bet the Congressman will conveniently forget that little fact.

Instead, Issa will likely concentrate on the fact that some Tea Party groups drew the interest of the IRS - though we highly doubt Issa will mention the history of serial cheating and tax code abuse some of these groups were already guilty of. Issa and others like him also aren't likely to mention that many nonprofit journalism groups with clean histories were also put under scrutiny by the IRS over the past few years.

If we believed in conspiracies, we might even be led to think that the U.S. government may have been trying to silence certain members of the media through both the IRS and AP/DOJ controversies for some time now. Sadly, the conditions for media freedom in America don't look to be getting much better anytime soon.

Yes, President Obama did have Sen. Chuck Schumer reintroduce a Federal shield law for journalists last week, that in some cases would protect members of the media from releasing their sources to the government. That action, however, is long overdue - and sadly, is not nearly enough. It's been confirmed the Schumer/Obama shield bill would not have protected the AP from the Department of Justice's recent grab of their phone records. Further, just proposing a bill does not make it law.

It's not just the Justice department that's taking aim at privacy issues.

The FBI has a new plan they're pushing forward, that would legally expand their powers to eavesdrop on what have previously been considered private internet communications, which might make it easier for them to catch "bad guys" around the world. However, it would also allow the FBI to spy on Americans easier than ever, including members of the media.

The fact is, the Justice Department already has similar legal allowances to those the FBI is attempting to acquire. The CEO of the AP insisted this weekend on CBS' Face The Nation program that the Justice Department's actions in grabbing the AP's phone records were unconstitutional - which is sadly, untrue. What the DOJ did was legal, albeit unethical.

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