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AP wiretapping is a serious overstep by government

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 11:21 a.m. CST

The recent revelation that the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI subpoenaed the phone records of the Associated Press’ Washington, D.C., bureau is an affront to some of the most fundamental rights of Americans, and those who were responsible should be fully held accountable.

Free people are only as free as their press. When the government acts to interfere in the work of the free press — or, as in this case, acts to intimidate those who would speak to the free press — it not only affects those who work in the press, but the public, as well.

It doesn’t take a “magic bullet theory” to deduce the government was attempting to discover the identity of anonymous sources within the State Department who had been feeding information about the Benghazi consulate attack to the AP. The net effect was an attempt to silence whistleblowers.

Inside “The Beltway,” the use of anonymous sources is practically a job requirement for journalists. And while it is generally frowned upon by most journalists, it is the only way to get information about the wrongdoing of government officials and agencies in the hands of those who most need it: the public.

How does this affect you, in Newton, Iowa? Like many small newspapers across the country, we cannot afford to have a full-time journalist stationed in our nation’s capital. So, we rely upon the reporting of news services who do — specifically the AP — to provide us with national news coverage.

While we don’t always provide that national coverage in our print pages, it is readily available to the public on our website. But, when the AP cannot ensure the identity of its sources will remain confidential, how could any reasonable person expect those sources to continue to provide their valuable information to the AP?

Earlier this week, The Media Coalition for the Freedom of the Press joined the AP in protesting the government’s gross misuse of its subpoena powers, citing specific sections of U.S. Code that were violated in the wiretapping situation. Our parent company, Shaw Media, is not a member of that group, and as was previously noted, we are not members of the Washington Press Corps.

That being the case, the Newton Daily News enjoins the Washington media’s protest of our government’s abuse of power.

The preceding represents the views of the Newton Daily News Editorial Board. Readers are encouraged to respond with letters to the editor.