In the United States, journalism is sometimes called the "fourth estate", a reflection of a belief in its ability to speak truth to power, particularly the government. As the Obama administration has accelerated its pursuit of perceived leaks of government information, traditional media has been slow to take up the cause of entities like Wikileaks.
The most effective support for Wikileaks comes from foundations and not-for-profits like the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF). These organizations have campaigned on the idea that Wikipedia may be among journalism's weakest links, but it is one worth defending in pursuit of a greater good.
That greater good is now at risk. In a post written last month, the FPF's Trevor Timm argues that "virtually every move made by the Justice Department against WikiLeaks has now also been deployed on mainstream US journalists." Those tactics include:
- Data requests without a warrant
- Government refusing to notify journalists they’re being spied on
- Equating journalists and reporting to spies and espionage
- Making requests for information a “conspiracy to commit espionage”
Closing his piece, Timm invokes James Goodale, former general counsel of the New York Times who advised the publication on its handling of the Pentagon Papers. Timm writes that "the 'conspiracy to commit espionage' charge—whether its against Julian Assange, James Rosen, or a New York Times reporter—is better characterized as 'conspiracy to commit journalism.'"