Free Press

Opinion: DOJ's New Rules for Investigating the Press Are Small Improvement

Actions are more important than nominal policy


“It has been and remains the Department’s policy that members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.”

â€"“Report on Review of News Media Policies,” U.S. Justice department, July 12.

Some of us can remember when it was the Justice Department’s policy not to prosecute members of the news media based even partly on newsgathering activities, which were assumed to be protected by the First Amendment. This wasn’t codified in law or in regulation; it was just deemed a matter of common sense. So the Justice Department’s new guidelines about when and how it may frisk the news media matters a lot less than what Justice’s actual intentions are. …

Clearly, the problem wasn’t with the Justice Department’s previous rules about media investigations, most of which dated back to 1972. Approached in the right spirit, they proved reasonably sufficient for a pretty long time. The problem is whether whatever rules the Justice Department maintains are enforced sensibly. Stricter prohibitions against interfering with press freedoms are welcome, but if the Obama administration continues to make leak investigations a higher-than-warranted priority the new protections won’t be worth much.