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Major Media “Rallies” In New York To Urge Press Freedom From Government Spies and Protection for Sources

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Major Media "Rallies" In New York To Urge Press Freedom From Government Spies and Protection for Sources

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By Danny Schechter

New York, New York: The term "spring offensive" may to be out of favor in the media, but more than 50 organizations endorsed a forum this past Friday with some of the media's best known editorial heavyweights, to discuss the most serious crisis journalistic freedom has faced in decades---a deepening collision over leaks with what has become a national surveillance State.

Sponsored by the Long Island University, and the prestigious Polk Awards, it was held in the bowels of the mainstream media--at the posh Times Center in the New York Times Headquarters. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger was present, as was Jill Abramson, the Executive Editor. She spoke on a panel challenging a securocrat who called on the media to be more "humble."

She was there primarily to rally support for an earlier speaker, investigative reporter James Risen of the Times, who is refusing to reveal his sources and has now been told by the Courts he has no first amendment right to do so.

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His next step could be a jail sentence as several speakers denounced the Obama Administration for being anti-press. It has brought and threatened more prosecutions under the terms of the Espionage Act of 1917 than earlier Administrations.

Also speaking out was Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation and editor David Remnick of the New Yorker,  as well as Martin Baron , executive editor and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post along with Post national security whiz Bart Gellman.

There were also outsiders who seem to have now become insiders, Glenn Greenwald skyping in from Brazil, and his colleague Laura Poitras in Berlin.  Edward Snowden's super articulate legal advisor Ben Wizner, from the ACLU appeared on the first panel.

While the newspapers publish Snowden revelations disseminated by Greenwald and Poitras, it seemed clear they really don't like working with them, seeing them more as advocates than "legitimate" neutral objective pros like themselves.

Nevertheless, it was a rare united front of media leaders and mainstream reporters along with independents speaking out for the public's right to know.

Although there was some squeamishness in Establishment circles about the need to "balance" supposedly legitimate national security interests and a freer flow of information---there was a great deal of prattling about "responsibility"--- top newspapers are rattling the spooks by their willingness to carry what they spies as stolen or purloined documents.

The intelligence functionaries spoke in terms of "good guys" versus "bad guys."

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Of course, they assume they are the former. Today, at the NSA and other agencies there seems to be more momentum to  "punish" wrong doers and rule through intimidation. Representing this "we are only here to protect you' approach was Robert L. Deitz, former general counsel, N.S.A. and senior councillor to the C.I.A. director and Robert S. Litt, General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence .

In his speech, Litt expressed regret that the NSA hadn't been more open in the past.

Yet, when I tried to interview him afterwards, he directed me to his PR flack who showed me how limited he is in speaking to the press--even at a press event.  So much for access or an interest in engaging with critics.

He and his colleagues are masters at speaking with forked tongues and runarounds even as they feign at openness.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.

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