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Making Reporters Use Government Equipment to Write About Jobs Numbers?

The unilateral, unprecedented move by the Labor Department with this politically critical data has First Amendment proponents up in arms.

Bridget Johnson


June 6, 2012 - 5:59 pm
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“The abrupt nature of this change, coupled with the absence of a clear explanation and a lack of public input, raises key questions about who made this decision to implement this change and why,” Issa said. “Did that individual have the authority of law?”

Issa criticized Labor Secretary Hilda Solis for turning down, “in no uncertain terms,” the committee’s request for her to testify at the hearing. Instead, she sent other Labor officials.

“Ultimately, if you’re the secretary of Labor the buck should stop with you,” the chairman said.

Advocates of the government’s plan, including some Democrats on the panel, say it’s a matter of keeping data out of the hands of scurrilous people on Wall Street until it’s released to the public.

“Government also has a legitimate concern, after all, you know, the media are profit-making entities that have motives that go beyond just the First Amendment sometimes,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). The new security protocol at the lock-up facilities, Connolly said, “might be the motivation of the Department of Labor in these new regulations… not the hobnail voodoo government on the necks of the media trying to strangle the First Amendment.”

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) needled the media representatives about how they’d like to get the data out quicker than their competitors, even though Reuters general manager Rob Doherty explained that under the current system they still can’t transmit anything until Labor lifts the embargo switch.

Issa asked Carl Fillichio, senior advisor for communications and public affairs at the Labor Department, to provide the committee with the full Sandia report. “Our people asked, and your people said no. So I’m asking you,” Issa said. “It’s very hard to look at your rules and your negotiations without knowing what was in that report.”

Fillichio said he’d get back to Issa on the request, citing security issues.

“I think we’re being very creative and very innovative and balancing our security concerns with their business and their public responsibilities to find a solution,” Fillichio said of the department’s dealings with the media.

News organizations are currently in negotiation with the Labor Department to try to arrive at a solution such as letting Labor staff install equipment owned by the news organizations in the lock-up room.

“Requiring journalists to draft and publish stories using government owned computers loaded with government-controlled software simply crosses the line the First Amendment clearly drew to separate the press from the government,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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