FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 15th FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2013
BY BOB FRANKEN
There is so much intense criticism about how the Justice Department, without warning, collected telephone records from Associated Press reporters and offices that we really need to come up with a positive spin. How about this: They haven’t water-boarded any journalists. At least not yet.
Instead, the feds swooped in and absconded with the logs from two months’ worth of calls from home and office phones used by about a hundred people. AP’s lawyer calls the move “massive and unprecedented.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a professional coalition, sent a letter charging Justice with using “police powers against the First Amendment.” So much for that love affair between Barack Obama and the media, which was largely a right-wing fiction.
The evidence was seized as part of an investigation into leaks that provided the basis of an AP story on a successful effort to thwart a plan by al-Qaida in Yemen to place a bomb on a U.S.-bound airplane. The Obama administration has been ferocious in pursuing and prosecuting those who make secret information public.
In this case, the attorney general, Eric Holder, disclaimed direct responsibility because he had previously recused himself after having been officially questioned in this matter. Still, he defended the decision to pore over the logs because the AP report resulted from leaks that were “within the top two or three most serious that I’ve ever seen” and “It put the American people at risk. And that is not hyperbole.”
Considering that AP says it held the story until government officials said their concerns were alleviated, some might question whether the AG was guilty of hyperbole. It’s tough to tell, as it always is, when those in power raise vague national-security concerns and, in effect, say “trust me.”
Finally recognizing that that this actually might be worth of a response, particularly with Richard Nixon comparisons flying around, Mr. Obama stepped in and offered his support of a national shield law that had died on the vine on its last swing through the congressional thicket. Never mind that the legislation probably wouldn’t solve the AP encroachment, he needed to look like he was taking charge.
So, he also revved up a little outrage over the Internal Revenue Service mess. In the wake of the clamor over that, he replaced the acting director and told the world he was “angry about it.” Investigations, both criminal and congressional, are sprouting everywhere. Think of the delicious irony: The IRS is being audited. For many Americans who have felt tormented after their returns were red-flagged, this is deliciously poetic. The taxmen and -women will have to explain what they were thinking, if they were, when they made life miserable for groups on the hard right who sought exemptions as “social welfare” entities and were being dragged through hoops to show that they were not “primarily political.” The truth is that they were and are, and the prolonged hassle would have been valid had their liberal counterparts equally gotten a hard time. They did not, leaving the irresistible impression that someone who, by law, should be “neutral” in fact had an agenda.
So, it looks like the anti-Obama hardliners were right in more ways than one: Conservatives were correct in their complaint that federal agencies were targeting them. It raises that old question: Are you paranoid if someone really is out to get you?
It’s fair to say the Obama White House is on the ropes. The news is dominated by charges of deceit and government abuse. All of a sudden, there are “gates” everywhere; APgate, Taxgate and let’s not forget Benghazigate. The president can insist the Libyan story has no “there there,” but the Republicans are there, licking their chops. It’ll be hard to keep track of all the congressional hearings without a scorecard.
President Obama and his people will have Republicans snapping at their heels as they struggle to convince the country that there was no malice aforethought as opposed to no thought whatsoever. That’s not exactly the tortuous choice they envisioned for their second term.
© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.