Justification of far-reaching surveillance on the Associated Press is evidently based on interests of national security, the “last refuge of scoundrels” looking to suppress information, Norman Solomon, of the media watch group ‘FAIR’, told RT.
RT: If indeed in the interest of national security surely the action against the Associated Press was justified in this instance?
Norman Solomon: Well, a lot is done in the name of national security and protecting the public. Several decades ago spying by the Nixon administration on the press - dirty tricks and so forth - were also rationalized within the White House and later publicly as somehow protecting the public from subversive or other elements that threaten the republic. And that is, really, one of the last refuges of scoundrels, when it comes to top leaders who want to turn off the tap of information reaching their own public. That those leaders would rather the public be kept in the dark.
And I think what we’ve seen with these revelations about the phone records of AP reporters is that this administration, which has already waged a larger war against more whistleblowers than any other in US history, has continued to push the envelope and tried to have a chilling event not only on journalists but to sources within the administration.
RT: And targeting obviously a credible organization like the Associated Press, in some ways has it been a victory for journalists because it’s been a major embarrassment now for the Obama administration?
NS: Well, I think it cuts both ways, because while the Obama administration in the last couple of days has encountered fierce criticism from very mainstream and even some conservative media outlets, the administration has also sent a very clear message to every employee of the US government. “You may think that you’re on your cellphone or your home telephone speaking to a journalist telling them something that perhaps we at the White House don’t want you to tell, but now you’re on clearer notice than ever that down the road your phone number may turn up in subpoenaed documents by the Department of Justice or some other agency, and then we can turn the screws on you and find out whether you’re a whistleblower.” That’s a very dangerous message, and in that sense this is a blow for freedom of the press, against freedom of the press.
RT: But aren’t there rules though? If it is classified information that person is leaking to the press, then of course the White House would be saying that sort of information could compromise national security, then they’re in the wrong and they do deserve to be tracked down?
NS: Well, that’s always the argument, but it turns out that there’s so much classification of information that the US public, not only has a right to know, but must know for democracy to function. And to be kept in the dark, to not know what is being done in our names, with our own tax dollars, by our elected leaders is to short-circuit our own capacity to be part of a democratic process.
RT: So a fine balance, then, between the need for national security and for respecting freedom of speech and privacy rights. It’s going to be a long argument this one, isn’t it? And do you think there ever will be a balance found?
NS: Well, the balance will be fought over, but until the US ends the perpetual war footing, this so-called War on Terror, then the domestic repression is going to be a major problem.