The publisher of The Washington Post, Fred Ryan, accused the Department of Justice of an “unprecedented assault” on the media under President Joe Biden.
How we got here: Last month, CNN reported that the DOJ, under the Trump administration, managed to obtain work and personal phone and email records of longtime CNN Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr. The obtained information included dates, senders, and recipients, but not text and audio of emails and phone calls.
That report came after the Washington Post said that the DOJ secured court orders for 2017 phone and email records of three of the publication’s reporters.
In light of the CNN report, President Joe Biden promised that his administration would not engage in such practices. The president called the move “simply wrong” and said he “will not let that happen.”
The op-ed: Ryan claimed in an op-ed published over the weekend that the matter has worsened since Biden took office. He argued that the current administration “intensified the government’s attack on First Amendment rights before finally backing down in the face of reporting about its conduct.”
“This escalation, on Biden’s watch, represents an unprecedented assault on American news organizations and their efforts to inform the public about government wrongdoing,” Ryan wrote.
He noted that the DOJ “continued to pursue subpoenas for reporters’ email logs issued to Google, which operates the New York Times’ email systems,” and pointed to the gag order on NYT journalists who were prevented from speaking about the effort to obtain their records.
“Later, when the Justice Department broadened the number of those permitted to know about the effort, it barred Times executives from discussing the legal battle with the Times newsroom, including the paper’s top editor,” Ryan said.
Ryan acknowledged the never-ending battle between the media and the government and said the recent revelations “should alarm all Americans, regardless of political persuasion.”
He wrote: “The First Amendment is not a special privilege of the press but, rather, a fundamental right protecting all Americans. It empowers citizens to hold their elected officials to account by ensuring that wrongdoing, even at the highest levels, will be brought to light.”
“Much of this reporting would be impossible without courageous government employees who, after learning about serious misdeeds, improper programs conducted under the cloak of secrecy, or other actions contrary to America’s fundamental principles and national interests, take the risk of speaking to reporters in confidence to bring such conduct to the attention of their fellow citizens,” Ryan explained.
“With the revelation that the Justice Department has secretly obtained phone and email records at multiple news organizations to sniff out the identities of journalists’ sources, government employees who would otherwise come forward to reveal malfeasance are more likely to fear exposure and retaliation, and therefore to stay silent,” he added.
Ryan concluded by demanding transparency regarding the DOJ’s actions.
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