First Amendment Right to Free Press Not a Crime
Published on December 12, 2010
The power of reason
by Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D.
It's curious that Sweden, the most sexually liberal nation in the world enlisted Interpol to hunt down Julian Assange on sexual charges stemming from a broken or unused condom. It's curious indeed, especially since Assange is founder of Wikileaks, which has recently released hundreds of thousands of leaked government documents, many of which have been less than favorable to the image of the Obama Administration. Assange's attorneys initially claimed that the charges were politically motivated, and given the circumstances, this is not an unreasonable hypothesis.
So what if the Obama administration is taking aim at the messenger in order to manipulate and distract the public away from the message? Could we really blame the Obama administration if it tried to protect its image by resorting to such tactics?
The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. The purveyors of news should be free to speak without fear of being branded criminals. Otherwise these vanguards of democracy may be less likely to speak truth to power.
The Obama Justice Department is allegedly considering whether to charge Assange with criminal activity pursuant to the Espionage Act of 1917 and possibly other laws regarding conspiracy and trafficking in stolen property. This may again be smoke and mirrors aimed at further discrediting of Assange and Wikileaks.
But suppose such charges are actually lodged, and suppose further that Assange is extradited, tried, and found guilty . If this were to happen, then a dangerous precedent would be set. For then, whenever the government declared that the release of information by a news organization was "classified" or otherwise contrary to "national security," it would have the legal authority to place the editors of the news organization under arrest. The result would be the chilling off of the exercise of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. News editors would accordingly live in fear that, if the next story they published was less than flattering to the powers that be, they might wind up behind bars.