Prison time for reporting on leaks?

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Promoting press freedom in the 21st century

At a rally this weekend, former President Donald Trump continued to attack the media, suggesting imprisonment for journalists who publish leaked materials.

Credit: Gage Skidmore (FILE)

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At a Texas rally this weekend, Donald Trump called for law enforcement to go after journalists and publishers to find who leaked the Supreme Court’s draft Dobbs opinion earlier this year. In a rambling and occasionally vulgar speech, the former president suggested investigators could claim the leak was a national security issue, and threaten the reporters and their outlets with prison violence. These comments echoed similar remarks he’d posted to Truth Social this summer.

Trump’s heinous positions are hardly new: As a public figure, then as a candidate, then as president, then as a defeated former executive, he has repeatedly voiced similarly objectionable views on the value of press freedom in this country.

It’s a stark reminder that future presidents may attempt to imprison journalists who report on the machinations of secret government.

It’s also why, ever since the Trump administration initiated the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, we’ve warned that the dangerous precedent set by the case could easily be used against national security reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post and everywhere else.

Those charges received condemnation from top American news organizations and nearly every major international human rights group when they were filed in 2019, but the DOJ under Biden continues to pursue them. Freedom of the Press Foundation is among the more than two dozen groups that have repeatedly called for the Department of Justice to drop the charges. Those demands have only picked up this month as Assange tested positive for COVID while awaiting extradition in a U.K. prison.

Yesterday, the DOJ released important guidelines that would virtually bar the surveillance of journalists doing their jobs. But until the department breaks meaningfully with its predecessor’s disregard for the First Amendment and drops the charges against Assange, future administrations (Trump is likely to run again, after all) will have been handed all the tools they need to imprison journalists they do not like.

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