Rep. Rush Holt on the freedom of the press

Rush Holt, Democratic Representative from the 12th District of New Jersey, which is where I voted for for over 45 years writes on the oppression of journalists (November 8th 2013):

“Spying on innocent Americans without a warrant. Widespread surveillance of mail and phone calls. Public outrage at the overreach of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.

We’re witnessing all of these things today – but not for the first time. In the 1970s, in the aftermath of Watergate and related scandals, the U.S. Senate established the so-called Church Committee to investigate and expose abuses by America’s intelligence services.

But what prompted the Church Committee to act in the first place? In recent remarks at Georgetown University, Walter Mondale – the former Vice President who also served on the Committee – spoke bluntly: “This was really triggered by an enterprising reporter in the press… And if you go over the history of reforms since that time, almost always some courageous reporter got the story and took it public.”

Indeed, journalists have served for centuries as a critical check on illegitimate behavior by government agencies. But in recent years, presidents of both parties have acted aggressively to shut down investigative journalists looking at scandals involving Abu Ghraib, the use of armed drones, and NSA surveillance. Federal agents have monitored reporters’ phone lines, demanded reporters’ e-mails, seized laptops, and more.

In September 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987), which would create the first federal “shield law” for journalists, ensuring their ability to protect confidential sources. The bill is not perfect – for instance, it fails to classify bloggers as journalists – but it reminds us to protect the ability of the press to investigate, and to publish, even when – no, especially when – it makes public officials uncomfortable. As our Founders understood, a free press is a cornerstone of a just, functioning democracy.”

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