The Justice Department has demanded that a New Orleans newspaper hand over the names of a dozen readers who sought anonymity as they made comments about law enforcement.
By the request, authorities continue to attack historic legal protections for the public. In this case, authorities seek to overturn the case law and Justice Department procedures developed over many years to protect freedom of the press under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
WWL AM/FM radio host Tommy Tucker in New Orleans, shown at right, asked for my comment soon after the show began Jan. 3.
Prosecutors are trying to reduce privacy and freedom of the press, I responded in the interview here. As legal authority, prosecutors cited a 1978 federal law creating federal inspector generals. However,the law has been in force formore than four decades without creating a right for Washington officials to demand that news organizations violate the public's expectations of privacy.
Also, I noted that the government already monitors and stores on a secret basis virtually all American phone calls, email transmissions, etc., according to experts we have quoted on this site. One such column is here: Therefore, the government could obtain the the communications it wanted to probe if this were an extraordinary emergency, which this is not.
As an alternative, prosecutors could obtain the information they seek by simpler, more traditional means. Among the options are questioning colleagues of known suspects, or obtaining a search warrant. The host, at right, agreed after noting that he has otherwise been aggressive in seeking a thorough investigation of irregularities in the scandal at issue.
Justice Department headquarters in Washington is investigating “sock puppet” comments made by New Orleans federal prosecutors online in the reader comment section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune online news edition. The department fired one prosecutor last spring after revelations he had made more than 500 anonymous comments, many of them on federal court cases involving him or colleagues. New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, his top staffer, Jan Mann, and her husband resigned in November following an investigative target's allegations that she had published anonymous comments on the newspaper site until last spring.
The current probe provides scant evidence that the dozen readers prosecutors seek to probe are federal law enforcement officials subject to sanction for making comments. An eloquent video highlight of the nation's history of free expression and association is contained in a 1954 broadcast by Edward R. Murrow of CBS editorializing against the rabid congressional investigations of Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-WI). It is useful remember, however, that McCarthy's bogus claims enjoyed great popular success and caused great suffering before those of stature moved against him. Murrow was the face and voice of that criticism but it was institutional leaders of the Senate who took the decisive actions.
In other news, excerpts are provided below on revelations about how authorities crushed the Occupy movement and temporarily resolved the so-called fiscal cliff battle.