Ringside Seat: There's a Reason It's the "First" Amendment

Of all the scandalettes currently limping around Washington, the one about the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of leakers, which some argue has led to a near-criminalization of certain kinds of news gathering, has the distinction of being the least compelling to the public and the most compelling to journalists. When Quinnipiac asked respondents which of the three controversies was most important, only 15 percent picked the seizure of journalists' phone records. Not surprisingly, reporters think it's quite important, yet not all that surprising, given how aggressive the Obama administration has been in prosecuting leakers.

Subpoenaing reporters' phone records and tracking their movements was not what people imagined the Obama administration would do when it came into office in 2009 promising a new era of transparency. So Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to mend fences by inviting some elite news organizations to come talk with him about how the Justice Department should treat reporters pursuing sensitive stories. The problem was that he said the meeting would be off the record, leading many of the organizations, including The New York Times, CNN, and the Associated Press, to say they wouldn't attend the meeting unless it's on the record. There were a few organizations, including The Washington Post and Politico, that said they'd go even if it was off the record.

We'll probably end up learning at least some of what was said at the meetings (supposedly there will be more than one). But that doesn't matter nearly as much as whether what emerges from this controversy is a clear set of guidelines for the Justice Department, and more restraint on their part in targeting journalists as they're ferreting out leaks. If someone breaks the law in disclosing classified information, then they can be prosecuted for it. But even the notoriously press-hostile Bush administration didn't go as far as this one has when roping journalists into leak investigations. And of course, this administration, like those before it, leaks when it serves their purposes and decries leaks that don't. The First Amendment isn't a blanket license for anything a journalist might do; there are indeed some leaks so damaging to national security that journalists shouldn't publish what they receive. But there's also a reason why the First Amendment comes first. One hopes the bad press they're getting will lead Holder and those who work for him to consider whether they've gone too far.

So They Say

“I think the atmosphere, unlike when I tried it, is better, maybe for the wrong reason. The right reason is it's important to reform a broken system. I'm not sure a right reason is that in so doing we win votes. I mean when you do the right thing, I think you win votes, as opposed to doing something that's the right thing to win votes. Maybe there's no difference there. It seems like there is to me though."

 Former president George W. Bush, on immigration reform

Daily Meme: Health Care Odds-and-Ends

  • The Obamacare rollout has quieted for now, and we won't have any definitive answers on how the insurance exchanges will operate until they start in October.
  • And the many, many variables at hand make it hard to assess the legislation's success while we're in the middle of implementing it.
  • Although Ezra Klein thinks that slowing health care costs could mean that the legislation is already working.
  • Thirty-five states plan to let the federal government run their exchanges, while the remaining fifteen are setting up their own.
  • In some states, especially in New England, the lack of insurance providers means that market competition might not be fierce.
  • But, despite all the unknowns, certain populations—like young people and the LGBT community—that could use a hand with health care will get it soon.
  • But, hovering over all this is the impending cost crunch that will be caused by the over 65 population, which will grow by 53 percent between 2015 and 2030.
  • These exploding Medicare costs that will result will likely be covered in large part by immigrants who never received any of the benefits.
  • A new Kaiser study shows that in 2009 "immigrants contributed $33 billion to the trust fund, nearly 15 percent of total contributions. They received $19 billion of expenditures, about 8 percent, giving the trust fund a surplus of $14 billion."
  • One physician said of senior health care: "This is a really important time in our nation's history for us to take a look at this demographic change and the health and behavior outcomes for this population. If we don't measure it, we won't know what to do about it."

What We're Writing

  • Much has been said about the woes of millennials with mountains of student debt, but as Tamara Draut writes, the debt saddling those young adults is going to make earning a living that much more difficult for their own children.
  • A big herd of cows can produce as much waste as entire cities, and unlike human waste, it goes unfiltered. Bridget Huber writes about why millions of gallons of untreated manure could put our water supply in danger. 

What We're Reading

  • Transcanada, the company pushing Keystone XL, has hired a lot of former Obama and Kerry staffers to try and prod the White House.
  • Issac Chotiner looks at the disturbing things Chris Kyle's view of war and faith tell us about American culture.
  • Alec MacGillis explains the disgusting way Peabody Energy is cheating their retirees out of money.
  • The Audubon Society/Barack Obama Twitter feud will make your day.
  • Bill O'Reilly's strict adherence to his plans reminds one of Rain Man, writes Joe Muto a.k.a. the Fox Mole.
  • Rising bond yields signal a stronger economy, not the first drops in a tropical storm of inflation.
  • The bias against only-children—that they're lonelyselfishmaladjusted—"might have to do with the extreme difficulty of parenting more than one."

Poll of the Day

A majority of Americans said that federal funds spent to counter the damage done by the recent Oklahoma tornado count as emergency spending and therefore doesn’t need to be offset by trimming other programs, according to a Pew Research Poll released on Wednesday. There was some partisan divide on the issue, but 69 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans all voted against offsetting the spending, for a total majority of 59 percent.