Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What constitutes "the press"?

Via digby at Hullabaloo, the First Amendment Center has an article by the Associated Press regarding the collaboration between WikiLeaks and respected news outlets The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le MondeEl PaĆ­s, and The New York Times (somewhat indirectly through The Guardian) in reviewing and redacting the trove of over 250,000 diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks has been slowly releasing (1,947 of them so far at the time of this posting).

There has been an awful lot of talk about whether or not WikiLeaks falls under the definition of "the press" for the purposes of First Amendment protection.  Here's what US Attorney General Eric Holder has to say:
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week there was “an active, ongoing, criminal investigation” into WikiLeaks’ release of the material. He said the release jeopardized national security, diplomatic efforts and U.S. relationships around the world. He declined to equate WikiLeaks to traditional news organizations that enjoy certain free-press protections.
“I think one can compare the way in which the various news organizations that have been involved in this have acted, as opposed to the way in which WikiLeaks has,” Holder said. He did not elaborate on the distinction he sees between WikiLeaks and the publications.
Now there are a lot of things I like about Attorney General Holder such as his decision to end Drug Enforcement Administration raids on state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries and his attempts to hold trials in civilian court for five suspected 9/11 terrorists including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

However, on this issue he is simply wrong.  It's quite telling that he is did not elaborate on that distinction because, for the purposes of the First Amendment, there is no meaningful distinction.

So what constitutes "the press"?  If I were to offer a general guideline about what should be included, it would be basically this: any communication intended for the general public.

If any of the leaks released by WikiLeaks had been released only to a limited group such as a specific foreign government, then that could legitimately be considered espionage.  As it stands, I don't see how it can be considered anything other than press under the law, and its collaboration with these internationally respected news outlets only serves to bolster that view.

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