News & Politics

Aiding and Abetting, First-Amendment Division

Whittaker Chambers (Wiki)

The media has not only climbed all the way out on the tree branch, they’re now actively sawing it off:

The USA TODAY Network has launched a secure website for sources who want to share information with reporters covering government institutions from city halls to the White House. The tool, called SecureDrop, is available at https://newstips.usatoday.com.

SecureDrop is a system of communication made available by the Freedom of the Press Foundation to protect journalists and their sources. It uses an encrypted and anonymous computer network known as Tor and routes internet connections through a series of different computers around the globe, making it largely untraceable. The network requires use of a special web browser, which is available here.

The system was developed amid a series of leak investigations under President Obama’s administration in which federal agents secretly accessed reporters’ phone records to identify their sources. President Trump has given no indication that he intends to alter that course; in a combative news conference Thursday, he said he had personally asked the Justice Department to investigate leaks that have ranged from details of his phone calls with foreign leaders to information about an intelligence investigation involving some of his campaign aides.

“Those are criminal leaks,” Trump said.

Speaking as one who enjoyed a 25-year career in the MSM, including 16 years at Time magazine, let me say my sympathies basically lie with the government on this one. Certainly the press should aggressively cover the White House and all other institutions of taxpayer-funded government all the way down to dog catcher. But as I noted in this piece about the Washington Post‘s equally unseemly solicitation of a possible felony:

If there is any material difference between this and Whittaker Chambers’ hollowed-out pumpkin, what is it?

Chambers, by the way, ended up at Time, where he was a senior editor for years.

The journalist in me would argue that the press has an obligation to protect its sources (which it does) and should mightily resist government’s efforts to force us to reveal them; while a young reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, I once spent a day in court while a lawyer for the Gannett Co. (which publishes USA Today) blocked an attempt to force me and a couple of other reporters to reveal our sources on a particularly piquant crime and corruption story.

But there’s a difference between enterprising reporters busting open a story — and then being contacted by various interested parties (not all of whom are either saintly, disinterested, or reliable) — and the press setting up a dropbox marked Deposit Secrets Here and waiting to see who or what gets caught in the net. It’s lazy journalism, for one thing; for another, its presupposes that the target — in this case, the federal government under Donald Trump — is inherently up to no good, and thus ought to be treated like the object of an investigation in search of a crime.

Trump’s election has created “a sense of urgency” among news organizations to find better ways to protect their sources, said Trevor Timm, director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which helped develop the whistle-blower system.

“Since the election, things have just exploded as far as demand for SecureDrop goes. Almost every single news organization you can mention has reached out to us in the past few months,” Timm said. The foundation’s online directory lists 29 news organizations that are using the system, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and the Associated Press.

And the media wonders why the president considers them an enemy.