Up until now, the funniest thing Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has said in the Obama years is “I think the media would love to have an Obama scandal to cover.” Well, Milbank has finally found a scandal that upsets him: the leak investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen.
“The Rosen affair is as flagrant an assault on civil liberties as anything done by George W. Bush’s administration, and it uses technology to silence critics in a way Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of.” It’s shaking Milbank’s confidence that the other Obama scandals aren’t scandals:
Beyond that, the administration’s actions shatter the president’s credibility and discourage allies who would otherwise defend the administration against bogus accusations such as those involving the Benghazi “talking points.” If the administration is spying on reporters and accusing them of criminality just for asking questions — well, who knows what else this crowd is capable of doing?
When Rosen and I covered the Bush White House together a decade ago, I knew him as a scrappy reporter who had a fascination with Watergate trivia. He later wrote a sympathetic biography of John Mitchell, Nixon’s disgraced attorney general. Now he’s learning just how abusive a Justice Department can be, from an administration that has launched more leak prosecutions than all previous administrations combined.
Like Juan Williams, Milbank complained that Rosen was being investigating for committing journalism. He concluded:
Carney told the White House press corps Tuesday that Obama doesn’t think “journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs” (perhaps he could remind the FBI of that), and the administration has renewed its support for a media shield law (a welcome but suspicious gesture, because the White House thwarted a previous attempt to pass the bill).
If Obama really is “a fierce defender of the First Amendment,” as his spokesman would have it, he will move quickly to fix this. Otherwise, Obama is establishing an ominous precedent for future leaders whose fondness for the First Amendment may not be so fierce.
This is a somewhat comical ending when Milbank has just underlined that Team Obama has “launched more leak prosecutions than all previous administrations combined.” Who’s going to be less “fierce” than that?