Watergate, secrecy, and leaks

Today is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Watergate. As Charles Pierce notes, the lessons learned from Watergate were the wrong ones. For example, President Obama has learned that people who leak government secrets need to be severely punished (also look here, Abramson’s speech is here):

Abramson, who took over as executive editor last September, said several reporters who have covered national security for decades have told her that “the environment has never been tougher or information harder to dislodge. One Times reporter told me, ‘The environment in Washington has never been more hostile to reporting,’ ’’ she said.

Abramson pointed out that the Obama administration has mounted six prosecutions involving leaks under the 1917 Espionage Act, double the number under all previous administrations combined.

“The United States has never had an official secrets act,’’ she said. “This would be antithetical to our democratic values. But it seems time to me to ask whether a once obscure espionage law from long ago is now being used to substitute for one.’’

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

At the same time, legal scholar Geoffrey Stone has concluded that there has not been any instance when the media’s publication of “a legitimate but newsworthy government secret has gravely harmed the national interest,’’ she said.

Republicans think Obama is using the links to make himself look good (gee, no other President has done that) and think his administration has been too open. It’s a surreal atmosphere for the anniversary of Watergate.

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