Freedom threatened by U.S. Justice Department

The Justice Department’s secret gathering of two months’ worth of Associated Press reporters’ phone records was a frightening abuse of power and a reminder of how important it is to fight for freedom of the press and protect the First Amendment.

We agree with Associated Press President and Chief Executive Gary Pruitt when he called the Justice Department’s actions “unconstitutional.”

We would support the AP if the news-gathering organization decides to press legal action. A lawsuit may establish a precedent to ensure this never happens again on any level of government.

Of the recent scandals to hit the Obama administration, the American people should be especially chilled by this one. Without the ability of the press to keep sources confidential and gather information, other scandals never may come to light. That’s true on every government level, including in small communities like ours. When people witness wrongdoing, it can be a scary proposition to speak up. It’s important journalists have the right to keep their sources confidential and do their jobs without being monitored by the government.

Journalists are on the front line in taking government officials to task and serving as watchdogs for the public. If journalists are impeded in those efforts – if the government interferes with news-gathering ability – the public suffers. The press is a guard against tyranny. Journalists are fact checkers, story tellers and truth seekers who are trying to get the public the information they need and deserve.

The public should remember if the government violates freedom of the press, other freedoms Americans take for granted eventually would be lost.

The Justice Department’s actions were deplorable, unconstitutional and undemocratic. President Barack Obama should take measures to address this issue, and if he truly didn’t know it was going on, we wonder about the implications of federal departments doing as they please under the president’s nose.