“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804. ME 11:33
In a recent story broken by the Daily Caller, numerous members of the media were exposed as being cheerleaders for the Obama administration instead of fulfilling the mission envisioned by the Founders and articulated by Justice Hugo Black: “The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have (to) bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”
In that context, this is a good news, bad news post. The good news is the Associated Press launched an investigation that resulted in the retraction of a Department of Homeland Security policy of investigating individuals who request information under the Freedom of Information Act.
The bad news is that DHS has been collecting information on private citizens.
According to the AP, in July 2009, Homeland Security introduced a directive requiring a wide range of information to be vetted by political appointees for “awareness purposes,” no matter who requested it.
Career employees were instructed to provide Secretary Janet Napolitano’s political staff with information about the people who asked for the information. According to nearly 1,000 pages of internal e-mails obtained by the AP, information was sought about the requesters, such as where they lived, whether they were reporters or private citizens, their place of employment and so on. Employees were also instructed to designate political affiliation when the request came from a member of Congress.
The really bad news is that this isn’t the first time DHS has been caught using the agency for political purposes. Some will remember the 2009 DHS report entitled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.
The report was noteworthy for its total lack of evidence to substantiate the title’s premise and for lumping returning veterans, opponents of illegal immigration, defenders of the Second Amendment, and abortion foes with militias and white supremacists. It upset a great many people at the time.
In response DHS assured critics that “we do not – nor will we ever – monitor ideology or political beliefs.” The findings of the AP investigation cast serious doubt on the sincerity of that promise.
Ten months into the Obama presidency, Senator Lamar Alexander gave a speech comparing the behavior of the Obama White House with Richard Nixon’s presidency. He cautioned the president and his aides not to “treat people with different views as enemies instead of listening to what they have to say…” That way, he warned, begets paranoia and a fortress mentality.
Among others examples, he offered the following in support of the Nixon comparison:
Sen. Alexander likened such conduct to that of “ street brawls and political campaign consultants,” but unseemly for the President of the United States and White House staff. Politics has ever been a rough trade. However, the office of the presidency requires decorum and propriety from the individual who occupies it.
“As any veteran of the Nixon White House can attest, Sen. Alexander concluded, “we’ve been down this road before and it won’t end well. An “enemies list” only denigrates the presidency and the republic itself.”
Is the Obama administration compiling an enemies list? The only certain conclusion to be drawn from this regrettable account is that a free and unbiased press really is the first defense against an unconstrained exercise of power.
Kudos to the Associated Press for undertaking an investigation to “bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”