â€œIt has been and remains the Departmentâ€™s policy that members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.â€
â€"â€œReport on Review of News Media Policies,â€ U.S. Justice department, July 12.
Some of us can remember when it was the Justice Departmentâ€™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 wasnâ€™t codified in law or in regulation; it was just deemed a matter of common sense. So the Justice Departmentâ€™s new guidelines about when and how it may frisk the news media matters a lot less than what Justiceâ€™s actual intentions are. …
Clearly, the problem wasnâ€™t with the Justice Departmentâ€™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 wonâ€™t be worth much.