Two journalism organizations criticized lawmakers on Friday for condemning newspapers that reported on the government’s secret program for tracking the finances of terrorists.
“The administration of President George W. Bush and some members of Congress are threatening America’s bedrock values of free speech and free press with their attempts to demonize newspapers for fulfilling their constitutional role in our democratic society,” the American Society of Newspaper Editors said in a statement.
ASNE and the Society of Professional Journalists issued separate responses to a House resolution that declared the newspaper reports had “placed the lives of Americans in danger.” The resolution, which most Republicans supported and most Democrats opposed, was approved by a 227-183 vote on Thursday.
SPJ said the House had “entered dangerous territory” with its resolution.
“This measure was passed without congressional investigation and without a moment of hearings,” said SPJ’s president, David Carlson. “There’s a thin line between official government condemnation of press coverage and violating constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press.”
ASNE, saying that its members abhor terrorism and share Americans’ desire to defeat it, contended that newspaper editors don’t claim to be infallible.
“However, the First Amendment makes it clear no person or branch of government has the prerogative to usurp any American’s right to speak or print what he or she believes is important and relevant truth. We believe honorable debate would focus on the issues raised by the reporting, not on attacks on the truth-tellers,” ASNE said.
The House resolution did not name the news organizations. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal were the first to report last week that a secret CIA-Treasury program was tracking millions of financial records in search of terrorists.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and some congressional leaders have focused their sharpest criticism on The New York Times, which also reported last year that Bush had authorized an electronic eavesdropping program shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
ASNE, founded in 1922, is an organization of daily newspaper editors. SPJ, which began in 1909, has nearly 10,000 members, many of them reporters in print and broadcast media.