Freedom of the press

As someone who has spent much of his adult life in politics and journalism, I find the action by the Department of Justice in targeting The Associated Press and its reporters as utterly reprehensible and crying out for some dramatic response.

Let me set the scene.

In 1964 I graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism degree (at that time Missouri was generally considered to be one of the top three journalism schools in the country).

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For the next three years I worked as a newspaper and magazine reporter, first in Wilmington, Del., covering county government for the Wilmington News-Journal and then in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for the highly respected publication Congressional Quarterly.

In 1970, following my graduation from Georgetown Law School, I returned to my home state Texas, clerked for a federal judge and then was an on-the-air staff member of the “Newsroom” program moderated by Jim Lehrer on the local public television station KERA in Dallas. After leaving KERA, I practiced law in Dallas.

In 1978, I was elected to Congress from the 24th District of Texas and served in that capacity for the next 26 years.  Since leaving Congress, I have been a political commentator for FOX, MSNBC, Bloomberg, Politico and The Hill in addition to being a partner in the Washington office of the Polsinelli law firm.

Press freedom is a bedrock feature of our Democracy. As an officeholder, I didn’t always agree with the way the press covered my activity; however, I respected that they had a job to do just as I did. 

While protecting our national security is a vital task for our government, going on a two-month fishing expedition into the phone records of AP reporters can not be justified. Such action is contrary to the constitutionally protected freedom of the press in this country and could have a chilling effect on the way reporters go about their job in the future.

Some in the Republican Party are demanding the resignation of the attorney general in order to score political points.

I am not suggesting that President Obama ask for Eric Holder’s head on a platter. However, the president and attorney general should issue a public apology to The Associated Press and promise that nothing like this will happen again during the remainder of Obama’s second term.

Our country made a belated apology to Japanese Americans interned during World War II when we violated their constitutional rights in the name of national security. Let’s have another apology, and let’s not wait more than 40 years to do it.