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Our View: Feds actions against AP are outrageous

For more than two months, the federal government has been spying on The Associated Press.

Records were seized on 20 phone lines going in and out of the AP's bureaus in Washington, D.C., New York City and Hartford, Conn.

The unprecedented snooping into the private affairs of the news cooperative is totalitarian in nature and an absolute outrage. Gary Pruitt, AP's president and chief executive officer, has demanded the information be handed over to the AP and destroy all copies. We second that call and add that the Department of Justice officials responsible should submit their resignations immediately.

In the course of its snooping, the federal government has listened to:

  • AP reporters discussions with confidential sources on a foiled bombing plot that was to take place on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death. This is apparently the purpose of this whole unseemly usurpation of First Amendment rights.
  • AP deliberations on dozens of other stories, both those written by the reporters involved in the bomb story and dozens of others.
  • Private conversations that AP reporters had promised their sources would forever remain secret, even to the point that reporters would go to jail.
  • Details of what the reporters' spouses wanted them to bring home for dinner.

None of the above is any of the Justice Department's business.

This is where we must make the official disclosure. The Havre Daily News is a member of The Associated Press, the world's largest, and we think best, news-gathering operation. And there is probably a professional bias against federal goons snooping around our work stations.

Still, there is far more at stake than whether we are comfortable with the Justice Department stalking reporters.

The federal government now knows far more than it should about the internal news gathering efforts of The Associated Press. We are probably not one step closer to winning the war on terror, but the federal government is a step closer to winning the war against the public's right to know.

News commentators were saying Monday night that the unintended consequence of this spying was a chilling effect on reporters ferreting out the truth.

Excuse us, but we think, that is the intended consequence.

Fortunately, we are confident that the AP and reporters throughout the nation will now feel a stronger resolve to question authority and report the news fairly.

If this kind of massive invasion of privacy can be imposed on AP, a traditional mainstream news organization that has massive resources to legally fight back, news organizations, groups ranging from the Drudge Report to the Huffington Post, from Montana Cowgirl to the Havre Daily Corrector are not safe.

And the reading public will be the losers.

(An earlier version of this editorial referred to tap's being placed on the AP's phones. Phone records indicating who made call to whom and at what time were seized by federal officials. We regret the error.)


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