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posted: 5/15/2013 9:13 AM

Editorial: Assaults on core values of freedom cry out for response

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We are long past expressing disappointment over President Barack Obama's unfulfilled first-term promise that his administration would be the most open and accessible in history. But we can react only with stunned outrage at the new revelations of the secret misuses of government over which the Obama administration has presided -- first, the targeting of conservative political groups for special IRS scrutiny, then the Justice Department's sweeping secret subpoena of Associated Press telephone records.

The president agreed on Monday that the IRS acknowledgment is "outrageous and there's no place for it." We have yet to hear his reaction to the broad, secret seizure of a news gathering company's telephone records by his own Justice Department.

One supposes that it will take two directions -- one, echoing a refrain that is growing wearisome with this administration, the not-so-funny famous line of Hogan's Heroes' Sgt. Schultz, "I know nothing!" and two, promising as in the IRS controversy that those involved will be "held fully accountable."

Today, Mr. President, it is time to learn something. And once learned, it is time to explain fully and openly. And once explained, it is time to demonstrate what "accountable" means.

In response to the outcry regarding its overreach, the Justice Department has scurried behind its customary shield, refusing "to comment on an ongoing investigation." U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference he had recused himself from the news leaks investigation and, sigh, didn't know all the details. Presumably, the government's defense will be that protecting national security justifies its desire to inspect AP records that might expose leaks regarding its terrorism investigations.

But as AP President and Chief Executive Gary Pruitt observed, this probe was hardly even that narrowly focused. "These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," Pruitt wrote Holder.

Such an egregious intrusion into a media organization by government demonstrates unconscionable arrogance and a chilling effort to intimidate both organizations that would seek to root out problems in their government and individuals who might consider helping them.

It cannot be tolerated. Members of the Illinois congressional delegation -- led by Democrat and senior Sen. Dick Durbin, the nation's second-ranking senator who fashions himself a protector of civil rights -- must surely agree, and we trust that like us, they will not rest until they get answers from the president and everyone in his administration.

Government that persists in being remote and secretive is bad enough. Government that would mount, as a secrecy expert told the AP, "an astonishing assault on the core values of our society" must be called to account.

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