Message control: out of control

Investigating journalists who expose a secret CIA war; auditing the tax returns of political opponents; retaliating against whistleblowers: It sounds like 1972 all over again, no? Perhaps the constitutional lawyer who is president of the United States can come up with a response to each of these current controversies. Cumulatively, it suggests a frightening instinct at various levels in the federal government to control the message at all cost - and a president who is allowing it to happen.

The latest development is that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of records for 20 phone accounts belonging to the Associated Press and various of its reporters and editors in three cities. This, in an effort to learn how a story got out about a CIA operation in Yemen. Further details from The AP:

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.The plot was significant both because of its seriousness and also because the White House previously had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot, though the Obama administration continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

The message control is out of control. 

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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