Columbia Journalism School Staff Warns Obama That Prosecuting Wikileaks Will 'Set A Dangerous Precedent'

from the heed-the-warning dept

While it's been unfortunate watching the traditional press attack Wikileaks for doing the job it refused to do itself, it's nice to see the staff of Columbia's journalism school (still considered one of the top journalism schools) come out and warn the Obama administration that prosecuting Wikileaks will set a dangerous precedent for freedom of the press, even for those who disagree with Wikileaks' methods:
While we hold varying opinions of Wikileaks' methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment. Any prosecution of Wikileaks' staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.

As a historical matter, government overreaction to publication of leaked material in the press has always been more damaging to American democracy than the leaks themselves.

The U.S. and the First Amendment continue to set a world standard for freedom of the press, encouraging journalists in many nations to take significant risks on behalf of transparency. Prosecution in the Wikileaks case would greatly damage American standing in free-press debates worldwide and would dishearten those journalists looking to this nation for inspiration.
Seems to more or less summarize the position we've taken over the last few weeks as well...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Dave, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 2:02pm

    The US currently ranks #20 for free press. We haven't set a world standard on that for a long while. We still take credit for it though.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_Freedom_Index

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    James Carmichael (profile), Dec 15th, 2010 @ 2:17pm

    Re:

    Good find Dave! American journalistic integrity is pretty bad; in a reasonable country where common sense is upheld, Fox News would have been shut down or warned by the government several times by now... they're one of the biggest source of misinformation out there, but I suppose the First Amendment works both ways!

    I'm surprised to see Canada directly below the US, but as with education and social security, the northern European countries are leading the way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    kyle clements (profile), Dec 15th, 2010 @ 2:21pm

    Re:

    Things like this always remind me of an old Bill Maher segment.

    New Rules: America Isn't # 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcz_NHAFGS0

    (NSFW language towards end)

    "Coasting on the achievements of our ancestors" is a phrase that I think describes things beautifully.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Fred, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 2:58pm

    kyle clements, America is #1. The only short comings we have are those imposed on us by the left. You don't WANT us to be #1. The very idea offends you and others on the left.

    Dave, our press can't be free when it has an agenda. Figure that out.

    James Carmichael, what you say about Fox I have been saying for years about MSN, CNN, etc. etc. Just because someone doesn't share your point of view doesn't make them wrong. Oh, and Jimmy Carter was a terrible president and is a terrible human being. And I don't need FOX to tell me that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Dave, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 3:06pm

    Yeah, stupid Jimmy Carter the last president in a hundred years who never started a war and who came close to ending the Israel vs The World conflict. You're right, he is a terrible human being.

    I grew up in the US and I live overseas. I also love to travel. When you do that, it's easy to see the shortcomings of the US. Many countries will miss the American Empire but schadenfreude will be thick enough to cut it with a knife.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re:

    Is it me or Maher kinda resembles Assange in facial features.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 15th, 2010 @ 3:20pm

    Re:

    We're #1 at what, exactly? Be sure to link to some sort of proof.

    Thanks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 3:59pm

    Re: Re:

    We are #1 with allowing our executive branch to wipe their asses with our constitution daily and get away with it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Chargone (profile), Dec 15th, 2010 @ 4:06pm

    Re:

    if this is not sarcasm, i suggest nuking your location for orbit. trust me, it's the only way to end the 'problem'...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Freak, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 4:21pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, we have one major news source, CBC, which receives a lot of funding from the gov't.

    Hate speech is illegal.

    Police in Ontario (mostly) and Quebec (sometimes), smash equipment and threaten journalists who show up at embarrassing moments, like the G20 riots.

    Should I go on?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 5:40pm

    Any prosecution of Wikileaks' staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.

    And why exactly would the US government consider this a bad thing? Did anyone stop to think that maybe they want to put a scare into journalists and make them afraid to publish leaked documents?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Richard Kulawiec, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 6:36pm

    Re:

    I've often reflected that in a mere twenty years we went from a President who could explain in rigorous technical detail how a nuclear submarine works to one who could not pronounce the word "nuclear" properly. (Not to mention from one who came as close as anyone ever has to bringing some semblance of peace to the Middle East to one who started a war there just because he could.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Richard Kulawiec, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 6:48pm

    Re:

    Did anyone stop to think that maybe they want to put a scare into journalists and make them afraid to publish leaked documents?

    I'm sure you're right about this: the lesser individuals in government -- of which there are many -- are scared to death by Wikileaks et.al. Oh, they hide it with bluster and cries of "treason!" but they're frightened right out of their inferior little minds. They have finally been confronted with the future and they have no idea what to do about it. Which is why we see them flailing helplessly -- Exhibit A, the Air Force futilely trying to firewall out the truth, as if something so pervasive could be kept out indefinitely.

    So sure, it's more than plausible that some of this is intentionally calculated for just that purpose.

    It won't work.

    There are now more mirrors of Wikileaks than ever -- and the next move against them will provoke still more. Similar sites are being set up as fast as their operators can assemble them. Better methods for concealing leakers' identities are being developed. Lessons are being learned from this saga and applied -- subsequent efforts will evolve and be more progressively more resistant to interference. Yes, governments and corporations will try to stop them -- and in some cases, they'll succeed. But they'll never get them all. And each time they succeed all that they'll really accomplish is exerting a little evolutionary pressure on the rest -- which will respond by making themselves that much harder to stop.

    The avalanche has already begun. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 15th, 2010 @ 7:13pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Is it me or Maher kinda resembles Assange in facial features.
    You're not the first to note this.

    How about this explanation for Mr. Assange's appearance! :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     

    posting

    great stuff! Thanks for keeping it up http://www.google.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    Christopher (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 12:50am

    Re: Re: Re:

    If hate speech is illegal, then a lot of the stuff that Fox News says or has commentators say should have had people arrested and thrown in prison/jail by now.
    We say that hate speech is illegal..... but the prosecutors are way too unwilling to prosecute people for hate speech violations, unless it is against black people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Christopher (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 12:53am

    Re: Re:

    I don't understand why Private Manning didn't use TOR for his leaks.... it's easy to set up, and judging from what I have seen, nearly impossible to crack.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Christopher (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 12:55am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Agreed, Anonymous. The fact is that the United States has not been number one in the slightest for a long time.

    To Fred... shut up. The real issue is that liberals do not CARE if we are number one if we are breaking moral rules. THAT is the only 'shortcoming' that we impose on the United States.

    That isn't even a shortcoming except in the minds of people who have been brainwashed with American exceptionalism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Matthew Schafer, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 7:13am

    The Fight Over Wikileaks and the Freedom of the Press

    In short, it would be unfair to say that the fight over WikiLeaks is free from real and complex ethical, political, and journalist­ic questions. The questions–­at their most basic–that WikiLeaks poses, however, are not entirely new questions. The United States has long defended one’s right to publish, and scoffed at any notion that prior restraint has ever been the answer. Thus, making suggestion­s that WikiLeaks or The New York Times or any publisher should be censored or brought up on criminal charges only casts a dark shadow on a rich tradition of freedom of the press in the United States. The freedom of the press is even more important when the speech that is on the line is controvers­al in nature. It is at those times that the press needs constituti­onal protection­s the most–not charges of treason. As Justice Black said in AP v. United States, the First Amendment “rests on the assumption that the widest possible disseminat­ion of informatio­n from diverse and antagonist­ic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.” Read more: www.lippmannwouldroll.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 9:11am

    Re: Re:

    in a reasonable country where common sense is upheld, Fox News would have been shut down or warned by the government several times by now.

    I don't think press freedom means what you think it means.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 9:14am

    Re:

    That was my first thought. Their reaction will be, "oh good, this is going to work after all!"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2010 @ 7:02pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Private Manning didn't get caught by digital surveillance. He got caught because he bragged to someone that he was the source of the leaks, and that person turned him in to the government.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    debra, Dec 18th, 2010 @ 7:11pm

    WikiLeaks defines Freedom of the Press

    We did a piece on this fact recently here...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This