To expose how former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration had been lying to both Congress and the U.S. public about the Vietnam War, in 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked a classified Department of Defense report to The New York Times.
That leaked report came to be known popularly as “The Pentagon Papers,” and the newspaper’s publication of it resulted in a landmark legal case.
Naturally, the U.S. government wasn’t too happy with Ellsberg or the newspaper, and argued that Ellsberg had committed a felony under the 1917 Espionage Act. The position of the government was that it’s simply illegal to publish classified information, no matter the reason.
After failing to convince The New York Times to cease publication of the remaining Pentagon Papers, President Richard Nixon had Attorney General John Mitchell file a federal injunction to force the newspaper to interrupt its ongoing series after three articles had appeared. The NY Times appealed the injunction, and, in June 1971, the Supreme Court took up the matter. In a 6–3 decision, the court found that the government was essentially trying to cover up its own deceptions, rather than attempting to protect critical information.
Since then, many people have the idea that the Pentagon Papers case means the U.S. news media can pretty much print whatever classified documents or information it can get its hands on without facing any sort of legal consequences.
That’s not true.
What the Pentagon Papers case actually established is that a reporter or news outlet could legally publish classified information leaked to expose government wrongdoing. New York Times Co. v. United States didn’t grant the U.S. news media a blank check to print whatever classified secrets fall into its hands.
The Pentagon Papers precedent doesn’t apply in any way to what happened with the Trump–Russia collusion hoax. This was the government targeting private citizens through politicized investigations for illegal surveillance, with the direct aid and complicity of news media organizations.
Remember, Donald Trump was a private citizen until he was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2017. Also, those who were working on his campaign were private citizens.
The people in federal government agencies who launched the Russia hoax—at the behest of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee—knew from the start that it was a hoax.
Whoever leaked the intelligence intercepts of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s phone calls to The Washington Post in January 2017 wasn’t a whistleblower. In January 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in an interview that the Department of Justice was “aggressively” investigating the leak of the phone call.
“We’re going after this aggressively,” Sessions told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo. “I am directing it personally … and we’re pursuing it aggressively.” Sessions also said at the time that 27 investigations were open regarding leaks of classified information. Many of these investigations are likely still ongoing.
On Feb. 22, IRS agent John Fry was charged with leaking financial records of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer. Fry allegedly accessed so-called Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and leaked them to attorney Michael Avenatti, who then released the information publicly.
Several months earlier, on Oct. 16, 2018, Natalie Edwards, a senior adviser at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, was arrested on charges that she leaked financial intelligence documents on various subjects of the Russia investigation to the media. Those affected by the leak included former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, an associate of Manafort.
Ellsberg was a real whistleblower, taking classified documents that exposed that the government under Johnson and Nixon was lying about the Vietnam War. Not one leaker of classified information that targeted Trump and his people in this hoax is a whistleblower. What government wrongdoing was exposed by these Spygate plotter leaks to the media? Instead of the leak exposing government malfeasance, the leak itself was a crime committed by the government.
It used to be that, back when we had a real news media, before any serious allegations against someone saw print, investigative reporters would dig and research and try to verify everything. Then it would be run by the legal department to ensure there was no liability if publication went forward.
It’s pretty clear at this point that we don’t have a real news media anymore.
None other than CNN President Jeff Zucker confirmed that recently, by saying: “We are not investigators. We are journalists, and our role is to report the facts as we know them, which is exactly what we did.”
So what we have these days is a “news media” that doesn’t really investigate anything their anonymous sources give them, because they don’t see that as their job. They just pass along to the public what they are handed. If that turns out to be wrong, oh well, it’s not really their fault.
I really wish members of the DNC Media Complex luck in making this argument in a courtroom: “But your honor, I was performing a public service by publishing classified information that placed innocent people under suspicion of being Russian agents and helping to get them spied on and investigated!”
Brian Cates is a writer based in South Texas and author of “Nobody Asked For My Opinion … But Here It Is Anyway!” He can be reached on Twitter @drawandstrike.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.