Media & Communications Law

Obama has worse record than Nixon on press freedoms, says Pentagon Papers lawyer

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A lawyer who represented the New York Times in a successful fight to publish the Pentagon Papers says the Nixon administration was deeply distrustful of journalists, but the Obama administration has a worse record on press freedoms.

James Goodale expressed his opinion after the Associated Press revealed that the Justice Department had secretly obtained Associated Press phone records, possibly to learn the source of a leak about a failed terrorist attack. “The action against AP comes as no surprise because it is safe to say Obama is paranoid about stopping leaks,” Goodale wrote for the Daily Beast. He also voiced his opinion in an interview with the New York Observer.

The Obama administration has indicted six people accused of national security leaks, more than any other president in history, Goodale says.

Goodale believes there may be a secret indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and that he could be accused of conspiring with Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning to violate the Espionage Act. The theory “is extremely dangerous to freedom of the press,” Goodale says, because it requires proof of merely a conspiracy to leak information, rather than violation of the Espionage Act.

The theory, Goodale says, could subject reporters and publishers to prosecution “merely for attempting to gather the news from those with access to classified information.” The Nixon administration tried to use the same theory to indict the reporter who received the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, but gave up the prosecution amid widespread criticism.

Related coverage:

National Law Journal: “AP Subpoenas Spotlight Obama’s Scrutiny of Press”

Washington Post: “Attorney General Eric Holder back in crossfire after Justice Dept. obtains AP phone records”

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