[As] Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler noted recently in the New Republic, when the judge presiding over Manning’s prosecution asked military lawyers if they would ‘have pressed the same charges if Manning had given the documents not to WikiLeaks but directly to the New York Times?,’ the prosecutor answered simply: ‘Yes, ma’am’. It has long been clear that this WikiLeaks-as-criminals theory could and would be used to criminalize establishment media outlets which reported on that which the US government wanted concealed. Now we know that the DOJ is doing exactly that: applying this theory to criminalize the acts of journalists who report on what the US government does in secret, even though there is no law that makes such reporting illegal and the First Amendment protects such conduct. Essentially accusing James Rosen of being an unindicted co-conspriator in these alleged crimes is a major escalation of the Obama DOJ’s already dangerous attacks on press freedom. … It is virtually impossible at this point to overstate the threat posed by the Obama DOJ to press freedoms.
… Back in 2006, Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales triggered a major controversy when he said that the New York Times could be prosecuted for having revealed the Top Secret information that the NSA was eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without warrants. That was at the same time that right-wing demagogues such Bill Bennett were calling for the prosecution of the NYT reporters who reported on the NSA program, as well as the Washington Post’s Dana Priest for having exposed the CIA black site network.
But despite those public threats, the Bush DOJ never went so far as to formally accuse journalists in court filings of committing crimes for reporting on classified information. Now the Obama DOJ has.
… If even the most protected journalists - those who work for the largest media outlets - are being targeted in this way, and are saying over and over that the Obama DOJ is preventing basic news gathering from taking place without fear, imagine the effect this all has on independent journalists who are much more vulnerable.
There is simply no defense for this behavior. Obama defenders such as Andrew Sullivan claim that this is all more complicated than media outrage suggests because of a necessary “trade-off” between press freedoms and security. So do Obama defenders believe that George Bush and Richard Nixon - who never prosecuted leakers like this or formally accused journalists of being criminals for reporting classified information - were excessively protective of press freedoms and insufficiently devoted to safeguarding secrecy? To ask that question is to mock it. Obama has gone so far beyond what every recent prior president has done in bolstering secrecy and criminalizing whistleblowing and leaks.
Greenwald is writing in response to this report from The Washington Post.