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Back in June, independent radio journalist Sara Olson interviewed Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the highest-ranking member of the US military to refuse to fight in Iraq.
Unsurprisingly, the Army decided to court martial Watada for his disobedience. But in a more sinister turn, a significant portion of the Army’s evidence against Watada comes from statements he made in his interview with Olson. The not-so-subtle message is that soldiers with dissenting opinions should keep their mouths shut and that they definitely should not share their opinions with the press.
And more sinister still, the Army is subpoenaing Olson to be a witness against Watada. If Olson refuses, she will be charged with a felony, and could face jail time.
This is highly reminiscent of the Josh Wolf case, where the government is trying to coerce journalists to become de facto police informants, or police investigators. This is a slippery slope that could lead to a public afraid to speak to the press about anything, because their words could end up in the hands of prosecutors. Or, to put it more eloquently:
It is a journalist’s job to report the news, not to participate in government prosecutions. The press cannot function if it is used by the government to prosecute political speech. Hauling a journalist into a military court erodes the separation between government and press. Turning reporters into the investigative arm of the government subverts press freedoms, and chills dissenting speech in the United States. The press must preserve its ability to cover all aspects of a debate, not just the perspectives popular with the current administration. We believe a journalist’s duty is to the public and its right to know — not to the government.
Olson points out that the Army’s actions in her own case are particularly nauseating because the Army is attempting to use her to infringe on another’s right to free speech.
A group of journalists and activists have started a website to aid Olson, DefendThePress.org. And while many members of the press are sleazy folks that we wouldn’t want to defend (e.g. Fox News, CNN, all those bastards who helped sell the war, etc.), journalists like Sara Olson and Josh Wolf are the sort of folks who deserve our support. In addition, supporting these dissenting reporters helps support our own freedom, and helps in the efforts to keep encroaching government at bay.
To learn how to help out, visit DefendThePress.org.
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