Among the myriad of scandals currently rippling throughout the Obama administration, one has been particularly jarring to the U.S. press corps due to its potential to impact the work of reporters themselves. Fox News reporter James Rosen was named a "co-conspirator" by the Justice Department for, essentially, doing the job of a reporter – investigating information, following leads and asking questions.
"The big threat here is that ultimately it is the reporters themselves who are seen as the ones who are breaking the law and there could be prosecutions," The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Rosen was described as a co-conspirator in an FBI investigation into a case in which classified information about North Korea was leaked to the press by Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who worked in the State Department and had security clearance. By naming Rosen a co-conspirator in the investigation, the FBI was able to obtain a search warrant which was used to obtain his personal emails, his phone records and his parent's phone records.
"Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," President Barack Obama said in Thursday speech.
At a May 15 Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder made a similar claim: "With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something I've ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy."
This past week, though, Holder admitted that he personally signed off on the investigation naming Rosen a co-conspirator.
"With the decision to label a Fox News television reporter a possible 'co-conspirator' in a criminal investigation of a news leak, the Obama administration has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news," The New York Times editorial board wrote Tuesday.
The Washington Post editorial board wrote a similar warning on Friday: "What did the journalist do to become a potential criminal co-conspirator? According to the FBI agent, he 'asked, solicited and encouraged' his source to disclose sensitive information. The reporter did this 'by employing flattery' and playing to the 'vanity and ego' of Mr. Kim. In other words, the journalist was doing what reporters do. Unfortunately, a judge signed off on this flimsy search warrant."
Mazzetti added that the administration's actions have already had a "chilling effect" on reporters, even those who are not investigating national security matters that could reveal classified information. People will be less inclined to talk to reporters knowing that the government could be listening to, or reading, the conversation, he explained.
"If there is a general climate of 'speak to a reporter and you could go to jail,' this has a cascading impact on, not just cases of highly classified information, but, sort of, low level information as well. If the feeling is government shouldn't talk to people in the press, then that's a big problem," Mazzetti said.