It was the first known instance of the federal government directly targeting a reporter who receives sensitive information in addition to the source who provides it.
Major new organizations and journalists criticized the government action as an unprecedented attack on the First Amendment.
“The Obama administration has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news,” The New York Times wrote in an editorial.
Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer, told PBS NewsHour: “What they were saying is that for committing an act of journalism, you can be deemed a criminal.”
James came in for some criticism for not doing enough to protect his alleged source. Jack Shafer, a Reuters media analyst, outlined a series of personal and email exchanges from the affidavit that he said were too transparent and left both of them exposed.
Ironically, given the FBI’s comparison of James to an intelligence officer, Shafer criticized him for not behaving enough like a spy.
Since three years have passed, it’s unlikely that James will be charged. But he was probably never the feds’ real target. DOJ’s aggressive action seems like a shot across the bow aimed at intimidating government employees and making them think twice before talking with reporters.
Obama himself said in his national security speech last week: “I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.”
As for James, I asked him a few days after the initial story broke whether he might be available for an interview to hash all this over. With uncharacteristic but understandable reserve, he referred me to the public relations folks at Fox News.