Leak Investigations Revive Talk Of A Chilling Effect On Journalism

06/03/2013 05:19 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2013
CBS

On Sunday, New York Times editor Jill Abramson appeared on "Face the Nation" and echoed what has become a common refrain in the wake of the Justice Department's media investigations.

"The reporters who work for the Times in Washington have told me many of their sources are petrified even to return calls," she said. "It has a real practical effect that is important."

Abramson was saying what many have said in the past weeks: that the intensity and aggressiveness of the leak probes have caused fear to ripple out across the nation's capital. The dreaded "chilling effect" has gained a new mainstream currency.

Of course, it's not as if potential sources had a whole lot of reasons to be cheerful. From the prosecution of Bradley Manning to other, less sensational leak cases, the Obama administration has become infamous for its willingness to target whistleblowers and leakers.

Yet the targeting of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News--along with their sources--appears to have given the issue a broader hearing than usual. Abramson's colleagues at the New York Times, for instance, have popped up in outlet after outlet, testifying to the added hardships that come with reporting in the age of Obama.

"It actually has been much harder to get people to talk about anything, even in a sensitive-but-unclassified area," the paper's Scott Shane told the New Republic.

"People who have talked in the past are less willing to talk now," fellow Times writer Mark Mazzetti said to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "Everyone is worried about communication and how to communicate, and [asking if there] is there any method of communication that is not being monitored. It's got people on both sides -- the reporter and source side -- pretty concerned."

Even television journalists have entered the fray. "I've had different conversations with people over the last week who are sitting there not quite comfortable having certain conversations on the phone," NBC's Chuck Todd informed his viewers recently. "Maybe that's the intent. I can't think of any other intent of why they're going about this in such a broad harassing sort of way."

Jesselyn Radack, a whistleblower during the Bush administration who has been very vocal about the leak investigations, told the Guardian on Monday that the reason for people's fear was simple:

Several potential whistleblowers have approached her in recent weeks, she said, expressing great trepidation about leaking to any news outlets because "they fear they will become the next Bradley Manning".

Manning is facing life in prison for sharing information with WikiLeaks.

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