EDITORIALS

Obama administration tramples on rights, must take action soon

Staff Writer
Morton Times-News

President Barack Obama needs to get his house in order if he has any intention of repairing the trust issues that now exist between his administration and the American people.

It’s difficult to defend an administration that in the course of a week has had to answer both for targeting conservative advocacy groups seeking tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service and for secretly seizing phone records of White House reporters in the hope of identifying an information leak — the ultimate fishing expedition.

Both are outrageous, over-reaching, oppressive abuses of power.

In one week, Obama’s record on government transparency, fairness and the First Amendment — which many would argue wasn’t great to begin with — was irreparably damaged. If the goal was to infuriate the two groups, Republicans and the press, that can make the Obama administration’s final term miserable, then mission accomplished.

The IRS singled out hundreds of conservative organizations, some of which used the words “patriot” and “tea party” in describing their missions, for additional scrutiny after they sought tax-exempt status, it was revealed last week. Obama responded that he has “no patience with it” and that workers involved must be held “fully accountable.”

Then, reports surfaced that the government secretly obtained sweeping records of phone calls made and received by Associated Press reporters and editors covering the White House. It was an effort to identify the source of information in a May 2012 AP report that disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bombing plot. The Associated Press was not notified at the time of the unprecedented seizure of its phone records, and the government has not said why it required the records.

Illinoisans, in particular, can appreciate the value of and need for whistle-blowers and a free press to expose corruption, wrongdoing and governmental cover-ups. It is unclear when it became acceptable for the president of the United States (himself an Illinoisan) and other government officials, such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to trash the Bill of Rights.

The message from the White House, however, does seem clear: Anyone who questions what the administration is up to, be it the tea party or The Associated Press, will be targeted and their rights trampled.

This is unacceptable. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said the IRS debacle “goes back to some of the worst days of the Richard Nixon administration.” Others have made the same Watergate comparison.

The buck stops at the Oval Office. It is imperative that Obama get to the bottom of these scandals and take appropriate disciplinary action.

These problems also reflect the need for a federal shield law that protects journalists and their bosses from being forced to reveal information, including the identities of sources who revealed information and were promised confidentiality.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said he plans to revive a 2009 media shield bill, and the White House threw its support behind the push Wednesday. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama “believes strongly we need to provide protection to the media that this legislation would do.”

Let’s hope Obama and Congress put their money where their mouths are. If anything has demonstrated the need for legislation to protect journalists and whistle-blowers, it’s been the events of the past week.

— GateHouse Media Illinois