Last night, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) publicly called for the prosecution of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald for his recent reports showing that the NSA has been secretly collecting private data on millions of Americans. Rep. King’s appalling call for legal action against a reporter for doing his job is an affront to all journalists, and indeed, the First Amendment itself. Freedom of the Press Foundation condemns Rep. King’s comments in the harshest terms.
Rep. King has a long and unfortunate history of calling for the prosecution of journalists when media organizations print something he doesn’t like. Unfortunately for him, that is not how the First Amendment works.
Mr. Greenwald and Laura Poitras—both of whom are founding board members of this organization—as well as the many other journalists reporting on the NSA revelations in the past week, are following in the finest traditions of press freedom that this country was founded on.
The freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment provides wide latitude for journalists to publish truthful information in the public interest, even when—and in many cases, especially when—the government considers that information “secret.” This has been the established law of the land for decades, if not centuries. And any attempt to prosecute journalists for doing their job should be met with the appropriate scorn.
Rep. King has cited unspecified “national security” concerns for his suggestion that we upend the First Amendment. As Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote, “The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.”
There is no better example of Justice Black’s statement than today comments by Mr. King, who cited no specific example as to how Mr. Greenwald’s reporting has harmed the country in any way. Indeed, former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke wrote today that claims the recent NSA stories damaged national security are “laughable.” The only thing these reports reveal is what the government has been doing to millions of innocent Americans, in complete secrecy, for years.
In addition to calling for the prosecution of journalists, Rep. King also made outright false statements. On CNN, Rep. King also said “[Greenwald] said he has names of CIA agents and assets around the world and threatening to disclose that.” Mr. Greenwald has never said anything of the sort, and in fact, he has said the direct opposite—that both he and his source have intentionally made sure not to reveal any information that could lead to individuals being harmed.
Freedom of the Press Foundation stands fully behind Mr. Greenwald, Ms. Poitras, and all other journalists working to bring transparency and accountability to government. We call on Rep. King to repudiate and apologize for his remarks immediately. They are beneath the dignity of his office and the Constitution.