The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has pursued an “unprecedented assault on American news organizations” under President Joe Biden, The Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan argued in an opinion article on Monday.
After it was revealed last month that the Department of Justice under the Trump administration had sought subpoenas to obtain records belonging to journalists from several media organizations, Biden said he would not “let that happen” in his administration, according to The Hill.
But a lawyer for reporters at The New York Times said the Biden administration had imposed a gag order on the journalists in an attempt to prevent the probes from becoming public and unsuccessfully tried to obtain their email logs.
Ryan wrote that “This escalation, on Biden’s watch, represents an unprecedented assault on American news organizations and their efforts to inform the public about government wrongdoing,”
Ryan added that the Post’s requests for answers from the DOJ for its investigation in 2017 into three of its reporters had gone unanswered.
“Throughout U.S. history, there have been inevitable differences between news organizations seeking to shed light on government activity and government officials seeking to preserve secrecy,” Ryan wrote. “As a society, we have become accustomed to these tensions. For the most part, they have been constructive and good for the health of our democracy. However, the egregious acts by the outgoing Trump Justice Department, and the apparent doubling down on them during the Biden administration, should alarm all Americans, regardless of political persuasion.”
Ryan emphasized that the actions taken by the current administration, as well as those of the previous one, are a threat to the ability of Americans to “keep powerful officials in check.”
Over the weekend, the DOJ said it would no longer try to obtain private phone records of journalists when investigating leaks, with DOJ spokesman Anthony Coley saying the DOJ “has now completed a review to determine all instances in which the Department had pending compulsory requests from reporters in leak investigations. All reporters involved have now been notified.”
Although Ryan said this DOJ announcement was an “encouraging step,” he insisted that it did not prevent the Biden administration or any future one from once again trying to do so at a later time.
The Washington Post publisher stressed that “The inconsistency between presidential words and Justice Department deeds dictates the need for full accountability and transparency regarding the actions taken by the exiting Trump Justice Department and those of the incoming Biden administration. A full accounting should be produced and released for the American public to see.”