Representative Peter King on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, January 2, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
New York Congressman Peter King, with his call for the prosecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald, recalls a long and dishonorable American tradition.
Never mind that, as The Washington Post notes, King is guilty of “willfully misquoting and misconstruing the many public comments made by both Greenwald and Edward Snowden.”
The congressman is not satisfied to go after Snowden, the private contractor who has provided a measure of insight regarding the extent to which we live in a surveillance state. King wants at the journalist who dared to tell the people.
Growling that “legal action should be taken against [Greenwald],” the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security dismissed First Amendment concerns, declaring that “no right is absolute!”—and that includes the First Amendment right of the people to be served by a free press.
So King is calling for the “very targeted, very selective” prosecution of journalists for informing the American people about what their government is doing—and why it might be wrong.
How very 1798 of him.
It was in that year that President John Adams presided over the enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts in a mad rush to disregard civil liberties and begin jailing his political and journalistic critics. In doing so, Adams and his allies opened what would be a defining debate when it came to the American understanding of the freedom of the press protection in particular and the broader right to challenge the claims of the government.
It was an intense time, arguably the most dangerous moment faced by the new nation. Dissenters were accused of threatening the safety and security of the republic.
Those who did not meet the approval of Adams and his cronies were punished for sharing information and ideas that provided citizens with dissent from the official line. Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon was prosecuted and jailed for, among other things, publishing a condemnation of Adams’s “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” in his newspaper The Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political Truth.