That, by the usually Obama friendly Chistian Science Monitor, is a pretty apt description of what’s going on lately.

The article is about the Monday revelation that Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen was targeted in a sinister way, a questionably legal one, for investigation by the Obama Justice Department. The same one that targeted the Associated Press for…what?…following a White House request to hold a scoop for a week before publishing it, only to add more time so the White House could get it out first. After complying with the request for the week’s wait, the AP wisely went with their instincts and published. Then the Justice Department seized their telephone records for a two-month period, in what the AP described as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into news-gathering operations.

The latest revelation about Fox News correspondent Rosen just builds on suspicions that after last week’s outburst of scandals, more would come to light. It has. It is chilling, and I wonder why some headlines put that word in single or double quotes, as if to distance themselves a bit from the statement while still reporting it. Maybe it’s because the Fox News chief called it that. But who in the media can deny that it is that?

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

This time, it’s new details about a 2010 Justice Department investigation into a Fox News correspondent who reported government secrets on North Korea. The twist is that in the Fox News case, the government is suggesting that the reporter broke the law and criminal charges could result.

The news points to how the Obama administration is going to unprecedented lengths to defend secrets – prosecuting more government leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all prior administrations combined.

There is significance in that notation. First of all, the government suggested the reporter  is involved in a ‘criminal conspiracy’ in order to gain access to his phone and email records without having to notify him or his employer about the investigation. And second, note that Obama is not going to lengths unprecedented by the administration prior to his, or another particular administration, but “all prior administrations combined.” Consider the scope of that.

Administration operatives have been busy using the same talking points on many media outlets saying things that are finally as transparent as Obama claimed his administration would be in his 2008 campaign. It’s no coincidence that some of the assaults on basic freedoms started in that year, and these investigations go back to at least 2010. But it’s disingenuous at best to resort to claims that other administrations ‘did the same thing,’ or that the IRS chief involved was appointed by former president George W. Bush. I find that only slightly less reprehensible than Catholics who claim that charges about the abuse crisis also apply to clergy in other churches, or other heads of organizations where young people are involved. But still intolerable as a response to such abuse of authority.

I’m glad the outrage is bi-partisan. It should be. This is not American, nor just nor excusable. This is so far beyond the pale that it calls for special investigation. Look at what Nixon did and was impeached for, justly. This goes beyond breaking into the headquarters of the opposing political party to steal secrets. Without the qualifying quotation marks, this is chilling.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the crackdown is having an effect, with AP saying some of its sources are falling silent. But that success could come at the expense of the newsgathering and investigative-reporting process that the Founding Fathers saw as a crucial check on federal power.

The Fox News case, in particular, suggests the “criminalization of investigative journalism,” writes Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, a British newspaper.

Okay, attribute it to a foreign newspaper if you want distance from the story. But shame on you if you do.

At least the most recent White House press conferences have shown some correspondents willing to, finally, ask tough questions. It only took them four plus years. At least this Yahoo news report doesn’t qualify the term chilling.

The Justice Department spied extensively on Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010, collecting his telephone records, tracking his movements in and out of the State Department and seizing two days of Rosen’s personal emails, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

In a chilling move sure to rile defenders of civil liberties, an FBI agent also accused Rosen of breaking anti-espionage law with behavior that—as described in the agent’s own affidavit—falls well inside the bounds of traditional news reporting.

It’s a play on words, changing language to form people’s opinions. Only it’s not working this time.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....