Will Officials Take the Fifth Unless the Daily Show Is Muzzled?

Do they still teach the First Amendment in law school?

That’s what you have to wonder when you see a lawyer for the Obama administration’s Justice Department arguing that statements made by former Vice President Dick Cheney in the Scooter Libby probe ought to be kept secret because a future vice president might refuse to speak to a future investigation out of concern “that it’s going to get on the Daily Show” (Washington Post, 6/19/09).

Really? That’s how we’re going to ensure that officials cooperate with criminal investigations, by using government secrecy to guarantee that their statements will never be subjected to criticism in the media? Yes, that’s the plan, according to “career civil division lawyer” Jeffrey M. Smith.

Here’s an alternate plan: How about instead we allow the media to criticize and even satirize the statements of public officials, and make sure that officials cooperate with criminal investigations by subpoenaing them if they refuse to do so? Nope–that would be “unseemly,” according to Smith.

It does make you wonder what they’re teaching in constitutional law classes–particularly at the University of Chicago.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.