Editorial: Asking for information should not be breaking the law


President Obama made an attempt in his recent speech on terrorism to quash any suspicion that he is out to intimidate the press.

“I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable,” he said. “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law.”

It’s not a lullaby that should put anybody at ease.

It should make any Oregonian uncomfortable when a Justice Department affidavit argues that a journalist had broken the law, “either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” by asking for information.

As many news outlets have reported, there was a leak investigation of a State Department employee. The employee allegedly provided James Rosen of Fox News with classified information. The Justice Department obtained a search warrant for his personal emails. The application for the warrant accused the reporter of breaking the law because he was seeking information.

In his speech, Obama offered as a solution what is called a shield law to protect journalists as they perform their duties. He called on the Justice Department to review its guidelines for dealing with reporters.

That may please some, particularly journalists.

But do we want the government defining what a journalist is? No.

And what about other Americans? If somebody does not fit the government’s definition of “a journalist” and is trying to hold the government accountable, is the individual considered to be breaking the law by asking for information?

There is a fragile balance between keeping Americans informed and keeping some information secret. Of course, there can be harm created by printing articles based on classified information. But any American should not be accused of breaking the law by asking for information.