The Honorable Alberto Gonzales, U.S. Attorney General
Dear Judge Gonzales:
Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, has just learned about your statements according to which journalists who allegedly reveal information considered “classified information” by the Department of Defense could be liable for prosecution by the federal government. By way of example, you cited the case of The New York Times, which recently released details on a government program subjecting thousands of American citizens to wiretapping in the name of national security. Moreover, national security is the argument that you invoked to justify possible legal proceedings against the media.
The position you have taken does not augur well for freedom of the press, already mishandled in several cases concerning information leaks in which journalists-merely because they wished to protect their sources, as their profession demands-were found “in contempt of court.” Your statements immediately followed another worrisome comment by an FBI agent, according to which it had become much easier to subject journalists to wiretapping under the Bush administration.
Are we not entitled to fear for press freedom if some journalists-who, by definition, are not bound to secrecy-can be penalized for performing their professional duties, the free exercise of which is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution ?
We cannot condone the continued existence of this gap in the law, as a result of which 33 states grant journalists the privilege to protect the confidentiality of their sources, when that right is not recognized at the federal level. We particularly regret the attitude of defiance that led to your remarks about the media, whose counterbalancing role is essential to any democracy.
I sincerely hope that this letter will help to shed new light on this debate.