Reflecting our fractured political landscape, much of the discussion of the recent scandals erupting from the Executive Branch of government has been thoroughly politicized.
It’s understandable, but it’s also myopic and deeply troubling for those who believe that our civic life depends crucially on free and unfettered speech, and on the shared understanding by all parties that the First Amendment belongs to everyone, even those with whom we disagree.
Some of the things done by the State Department, the Justice Department, and the IRS – no matter who did, or did not, order them – are patently offensive, and can’t be allowed to stand.
When the State Department attributed the atrocity in Benghazi to a YouTube video, they weren’t just making a mistake, they were trafficking in the all-too-familiar refrain that “the media did it.”
When the Justice Department subpoenaed the phone records of AP reporters in search of a leaker – and in a related matter, when a FOX reporter was accused by the FBI of being a co-conspirator in the leaking of a confidential report – they weren’t just exceeding their constitutional authority, they were criminalizing investigative reporting itself.
And when the IRS decided to slow-walk the applications for tax exempt status of conservative groups, because they were conservative groups, and leaked to progressive media outlets information about conservative groups (as with the “Tea Party” applications delivered to ProPublica), they weren’t just injecting politics into what should be a value-free process, they were poisoning the well of what we as a nation have long considered to be the highest and most protected form of speech: political speech.
None of this can be tolerated. But more important still is that people and organizations of all persuasions condemn it. That way lies the preservation of our most precious freedom, and the civic virtue of shared values. If, in the alternative, people in Congress and the press treat these matters as political footballs, we’ll all be the losers.
Going forward it will be easy to tell which path the players have taken.
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils. A version of this article titled "Seeking shared values amid the IRS, AP scandals" was published online in the May 24, 2013 issue of USA Today, and can be viewed here.