What the War on Journalists Means For the View From Nowhere

The US government has declared war on us.

By “us,” I mean the many thousands of people who work as journalists in this country, myself included. This war extends a larger, more subtle war on whistleblowers that the government, and the Obama administration more specifically, has waged for several years.

Last week, the first overt shot: The announcement by Associated Press president and CEO Gary Pruitt that the US Department of Justice had secretly subpoenaed records from 20 AP phone lines, gaining unprecedented access to reporters’ phone numbers, both work-related and personal.

The probe stems from an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Matt Apuzzo describing, in fairly innocuous terms, how US and British intelligence allegedly thwarted a terrorist attack on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing.

This week, that same DOJ announced that it had gained access to the email of another journalist, Fox News reporter James Rosen. This time, DOJ apparently went to a judge and claimed that Rosen was taking part in a “conspiracy to release classified information” in order to obtain a search warrant.

Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian writes:

New revelations emerged yesterday in the Washington Post that are perhaps the most extreme yet when it comes to the DOJ’s attacks on press freedoms. It involves the prosecution of State Department adviser Stephen Kim, a naturalized citizen from South Korea who was indicted in 2009 for allegedly telling Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, that US intelligence believed North Korea would respond to additional UN sanctions with more nuclear tests – something Rosen then reported. Kim did not obtain unauthorized access to classified information, nor steal documents, nor sell secrets, nor pass them to an enemy of the US.

The ramifications of effectively accusing journalists of federal crimes just for doing their jobs – something rarely done to cops or soldiers, even when they commit the most vile acts while “on the job” – are widespread and horrifying. We know that this has been an issue since at least 2005. Why is the media only now starting to talk about it seriously?

Because of the “view from nowhere.

The view from nowhere allows mainstream journalists two privileges: It removes them from the story (which can be beneficial until they are the story themselves), and it sets up the premise that there are two equally valid perspectives on any given issue (rather than one, or many, perspectives of varying credibility).

Reporters aren’t supposed to be people when they’re reporting; rather, they exist as living, breathing receptacles and dispensers of information. This precludes any emotional attachment to a story. Again, this can be a good thing – especially in disaster areas where a massive physical and emotional toll has been exacted on a community – but it can make reporters blind to issues that directly effect them. Until earlier in May, this applied to the war on whistleblowers.

We’re also supposed to adhere to the laughable idea that fairness and objectivity in our reporting automatically means that there are two – and only two – equal and opposing sides to any given story. Not only is this not true most of  the time, it came back to bite reporters in the face regarding both the DOJ AP investigation and the announcement that Rosen had essentially been accused of a crime.

Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, put out messaging days after the DOJ AP story broke that, while not explicitly siding with the government, tried to put “equal” skepticism on the legality of the AP’s actions. In the Rosen case, critics on Twitter tried to argue that since Fox News wasn’t a “legitimate” journalistic institution and that Rosen allegedly acted with some impropriety, the reporter in question forfeited journalistic protections, and therefore the government was justified in falsely accusing him of conspiracy.

As Tommy Christopher wrote about the Rosen case for Mediaite, another progressive news-watcher, “Mr. Kim didn’t approach James Rosen, wracked by conscience over some government malfeasance, and Rosen didn’t approach Kim with a noble desire to gather the truth.”

Christopher continues:

“That James Rosen was never charged seems to indicate that the evidence didn’t support the charge, but it is as silly to contend that the government had no right to ask as it is to conclude that James Rosen had no right to ask his source for information. The details matter, and they are being lost in the press’ knee-jerk revulsion at the general idea of investigating reporters and their sources.”

Although Christopher also acknowledges the First Amendment doesn’t make an exception for ignobility, the point is clear: If one’s status as a journalist can be questioned in the name of “seeing both sides,” so can their rights. Why is this okay?

In both the AP and Rosen stories, the State used force to invade journalists’ privacy in the name of plugging leaks. This is unacceptable. If we are to advocate for a truly free society, there should be no concession on this issue: the State must not be allowed to do this.

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