In a letter to President Obama and Attorney General Holder, nineteen twenty faculty members of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism warned against the “dangerous precedent” that a prosecution of WikiLeaks would establish. They wrote that whatever one thinks about WikiLeaks’s methods or motives, the organization is “engaging in journalistic activity” by publishing the State Department cables, and therefore entitled to First Amendment protection.

Prosecuting the WikiLeaks staff would be detrimental not only to press freedom, they argue, but to the reputation of the United States. The complete letter is available here, but here is an excerpt:

As a historical matter, government overreaction to publication of leaked material in the press has always been more damaging to American democracy than the leaks themselves.

The U.S. and the First Amendment continue to set a world standard for freedom of the press, encouraging journalists in many nations to take significant risks on behalf of transparency. Prosecution in the Wikileaks case would greatly damage American standing in free-press debates worldwide and would dishearten those journalists looking to this nation for inspiration.
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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner