Representative Peter King – and now President Bush – are demonizing the New York Times and threatening to prosecute the paper for its story on a secret money monitoring program. This attack is part of a broader, undeclared war on the media intended to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs.

As I wrote earlier this month, even the former chief spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft characterized the actions of Alberto Gonzales in threatening reporters as “…the most reckless abuse of power I have seen in years.”

This very abuse demonstrates that the need for an independent media is greater now than ever before. Sure, there is a balance to be struck between security and liberty. But that balance is gone – thanks to a Bush administration that has displayed reckless contempt for the media, for the Constitution, and for our Bill of Rights.

A free press is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy – our system of checks and balances – holding accountable those who would abuse power at the expense of citizens and the public interest. If ever we’ve witnessed Executive Power run amok, now is that time. And since this Republican Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibilities it’s up to the media to fill that void. As Matt Rothschild wrote in his blog for The Progressive, “What King, Cheney, Bush, Gonzales, and many rightwing pundits don’t seem to appreciate is that we, the American people, need to have a free press to check the excesses of government.”

Stories on money tracking also appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times last week. But King’s ire is focused on the New York Times. Why? When I debated him on MSNBC’s Scarborough Country Monday night, he called the paper “a recidivist” because of its previous important (and Pulitzer-prize winning) report exposing domestic surveillance.

And so this administration and its allies are once again doing what they do best: labeling those they believe are interfering with their ability to escape accountability and oversight as “disgraceful,” “treasonous,” and “damaging.”

Right pejoratives, wrong targets.