Washington’s war on the press took another unsettling turn this summer. It took a couple of months for the story to crack the news, but we now have an even clearer picture of how easy it is for authorities to trample the constitutional protections provided to journalists, to say nothing of the Fourth Amendment rights enjoyed by all Americans.
On Aug. 6, Department of Homeland Security agents, U.S. Coast Guard investigators and Maryland State Police officers in full body armor searched the home of investigative journalist Audrey Hudson and confiscated a stack of her personal files, including government documents and notes.
According to the search warrant, the raid was carried out to search for firearms inside her home, noting that Ms. Hudson’s husband, Coast Guard employee Paul Flanagan, was found guilty in 1986 of resisting arrest in Prince George’s County and is prohibited under the law from possessing firearms.
But the officers, without Ms. Hudson’s knowledge or consent, also took the papers that happened to contain information about her sources within two agencies she had covered extensively: the Department of Homeland Security — which helped execute the pre-dawn search — and the Transportation Security Administration. Ms. Hudson is rightly concerned that many of her federal government sources have been exposed.
“In particular, the files included notes that were used to expose how the federal Air Marshal Service had lied to Congress about the number of airline flights they were actually protecting against another terrorist attack,” Hudson explained to The Daily Caller website.
In a chilling revelation reported by The Associated Press last week, Ms. Hudson said Coast Guard Special Agent Miguel Bosch actually asked her whether she had written The Washington Times stories that brought great criticism upon the Air Marshal Service in the mid-2000s — and that Mr. Bosch then identified himself as a former Air Marshal official.
The documents weren’t listed on the search warrant and shouldn’t have been taken. The vast majority of her boxes of files were left alone. Ms. Hudson only learned they were taken when, five weeks later, a Homeland Security official called her to say she could come pick them up.
Consider these circumstances against the backdrop of a government determined to root out the protected sources of journalists and, when possible, prosecute them. Recall earlier this year the Department of Justice secretly obtaining the phone records of Associated Press journalists and riding roughshod over Fox News reporter James Rosen by monitoring his personal email, phone records and movements. Or the DOJ seeking to put New York Times reporter James Risen on the stand to testify in the criminal trial of a former CIA official charged with providing classified (though practically useless) information for Mr. Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War.”
Perhaps the taking of Ms. Hudson’s records was a coincidence, or a vendetta-driven fishing expedition carried out by a few officials. Given the way the Obama administration has attacked the news gathering process, intimidated whistle-blowers and limited the access of reporters and organizations who’ve asked tough questions and disclosed embarrassing information, the White House hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. What happened to Ms. Hudson was a flat-out jackbooted assault on all reporters.
More than ever, journalists need the protection of a federal shield law. But that won’t do the media or the public any good if the feds can kick down the door and take reporters’ stuff.
—This editorial appeared Nov. 3 in the Las Vegas Review-Journal