Freedom of the Press, one small example

Often we hear about the freedom of the press and how it’s necessary for media outlets to be insulated from various restrictions on content, etc. These days though, its hard to take some of the self-important rhetoric from media outlets that seriously.

When was the last time CNN or Fox News ever did some serious reporting that actually made the public more competent to make decisions or furthered our knowledge of our democratic system? (just scrolling over to CNN.com at the time of writing, some of the stories are “what does ‘video game’ mean?” “Look what they’ve made from Legos” and the lead story is “Adventurer nears end of Amazon trek”)

Here though I found an example of when an action taken by the press directly influenced the direction the country can take when dealing with crises and other issues.

This opinion was written by the judge in the Hepting case (see pg. 18-22), (see also here) which was about the disclosure of telecommunication records from companies to the NSA. In it, he argues that the lawsuit can proceed, despite the government’s state secrets privilege, because REPORTERS had already made the program “not secret.” Now it might be a bad idea for reporters to reveal classified programs, I don’t know, but in this case, reporting had a real and obvious consequence — this lawsuit was dismissed out of hand. As a result, we probably (and now I betray my bias) got an important look at the way the Bush administration tried to gather intelligence.


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