June 9, 2021

In its dealings with the press these days, the Justice Department reminds me a little of Sir Lancelot in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

After slaughtering multiple wedding guests, he apologizes.

“You only killed the bride’s father,” the groom’s father complains.

“Well, I really didn’t mean to,” Lancelot answered.

“Didn’t mean to? You put a sword right through his head.”

And so here are officials of the Justice Department, which has continued to seize journalists’ records across multiple administrations, swearing they are all about “a free press” and “protecting First Amendment values.”

The officials promised, swore-to-God, hope-to-die, that they will no longer seek to secretly obtain information about leaks “to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs.”

And this time, department officials said, they really mean it.

So is this promise supposed to make us forget about the revelation in May that the Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of Washington Post journalists during the final year of the Trump administration?

Or that the department secretly obtained the phone and email records of the Pentagon correspondent for CNN?

Or The New York Times’ report on Friday that the newspaper had been barred from revealing a secret court fight over efforts to obtain the email records of four reporters?

Or the revelation Saturday that the FBI was withdrawing its subpoena of USA Today records to identify those who read a story about a child porn suspect who fatally shot two FBI agents in February? The subpoena was seeking IP addresses and mobile phone identifications for those who read the story for 35 minutes on the day of the shooting.

The Justice Department used to have a policy that discouraged officials from seeking to subpoena reporters or their records. Maybe not so much anymore.

These days, it seems to be the end justifying the means. The unfortunate losers? The press and the public.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. He is the author of Race Against…
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