Media

FBI Backs Off Attempt To Subpoena Info on USA Today Readers

Plus: America's love-hate relationship with booze, Twitter CEO says "bitcoin changes absolutely everything," and more...

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Press freedom continues to be threatened by Biden administration. In an insane new bit of federal law enforcement overreach, the FBI demanded that USA Today turn over records showing who read a February story about two FBI agents killed in Florida. The FBI sought information, including I.P. addresses, on all "computers and other electronic devices" that accessed the story during a 35-minute period on the evening of the shooting. The subpoena is "a clear violation of the First Amendment," said USA Today Publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth in a statement.

In late May, USA Today's parent company, Gannett, asked a federal court to quash the April subpoena, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of Department of Justice (DOJ) rules. "The FBI has failed to demonstrate compliance with the United States Attorney General's regulations for subpoenas to the press—regulations that President Biden himself recently pledged the Administration would follow," said Gannett's May 28 motion, revealed by USA Today last Friday.

Amid the publicity, the FBI backed off. "The FBI has withdrawn a subpoena demanding records from USA TODAY that would identify readers of a February story," the paper reported on Saturday.

But disturbingly, the agency doesn't seem to think it did anything wrong. The FBI didn't withdraw the subpoena because it was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution but because the person it sought to find through subpoenaed reader records was identified "through other means," USA Today says.

That makes the FBI's move even more shocking. Authorities clearly had other ways to find the suspect they were looking for and, apparently, still decided that infringing on freedom of the press was a good first step.

The situation highlights a broader debate about the federal government's lack of respect for First Amendment rights and media. Under the Trump administration, the DOJ obtained the phone records of reporters from CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. When this was first revealed, President Joe Biden called it "simply, simply wrong."

But once in office, Biden changed his tune.

"Unfortunately, new revelations suggest that the Biden Justice Department not only allowed these disturbing intrusions to continue — it intensified the government's attack on First Amendment rights before finally backing down in the face of reporting about its conduct," Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote in an op-ed published yesterday:

After Biden took office, the department continued to pursue subpoenas for reporters' email logs issued to Google, which operates the New York Times' email systems, and it obtained a gag order compelling a Times attorney to keep silent about the fact that federal authorities were seeking to seize his colleagues' records. Later, when the Justice Department broadened the number of those permitted to know about the effort, it barred Times executives from discussing the legal battle with the Times newsroom, including the paper's top editor.

This escalation, on Biden's watch, represents an unprecedented assault on American news organizations and their efforts to inform the public about government wrongdoing.

After the Biden DOJ's continued attempts to interfere with journalistic freedom were revealed, the department finally pledged to cut it out. "Going forward, consistent with the President's direction, this Department of Justice — in a change to its long-standing practice — will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs," said DOJ spokesperson Anthony Coley in a statement.


FREE MINDS

America's love-hate relationship with booze. "By 1830, the average American adult was consuming about three times the amount we drink today," points out The Atlantic. "An obsession with alcohol's harms understandably followed, starting the country on the long road to Prohibition."

"What's distinctly American about this story is not alcohol's prominent place in our history (that's true of many societies), but the zeal with which we've swung between extremes," writes Atlantic Senior Editor Kate Julian. "Americans tend to drink in more dysfunctional ways than people in other societies, only to become judgmental about nearly any drinking at all. Again and again, an era of overindulgence begets an era of renunciation: Binge, abstain. Binge, abstain."


FREE MARKETS

Big bitcoin praise from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. "Bitcoin changes absolutely everything," said Dorsey at the Bitcoin 2021 Conference in Miami on Friday. "I don't think there is anything more important in my lifetime to work on.…I don't think there is anything more enabling for people around the world."

Dorsey added that if he "were not at Square or Twitter, I would be working on bitcoin. If [bitcoin] needed more help than Square or Twitter, I would leave them for bitcoin."

See also: "Don't Ban Bitcoin."


QUICK HITS

• Royal Caribbean Cruises is caving to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' threats to fine the company if it requires cruise ship passengers to be vaccinated. "Guests are strongly recommended to set sail fully vaccinated, if they are eligible," it said in a new announcement. "Those who are unvaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, which will be announced at a later date."

• The Arizona election audit "is a simple exercise in how disinformation spreads and takes hold in 2021," suggests NPR. "And experts fear it presents a blueprint for other states and lawmakers to follow, one that is already showing signs of being emulated across the country."

• With new food freedom laws, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Montana become the latest states to deregulate homemade food.

• No video captured the fatal shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr. by members of a U.S. Marshals Service task force in Minneapolis last Thursday. "The U.S. Marshal Service currently does not allow the use of body cameras for officers serving on its North Star Fugitive Task Force," the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in a statement. "There is no squad camera footage of the incident."

• Three years ago, a federal judge ruled that "Crosley Green's murder conviction couldn't stand. Green still isn't free."

• Don't try to fix Big Tech with politics, writes Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward.

• The Food and Drug Administration freaks out over the prospect of people eating cicadas.

• The American mind, "when roused to anger, invariably seeks more concrete satisfactions: invade this, regulate that, throw so-and-so in jail," notes Stephen L. Carter in an op-ed on potential consequences if the Wuhan lab leak theory is proven true. "Anger seeks catharsis, often in the urge to 'do something.' Lots of bad policy is driven that way."