Chilling effect. That’s the term lawyers and judges use to describe the result of government actions that deter people from exercising their right of free speech.
There have been plenty of examples in the past 10 days.
The Obama administration’s Justice Department issued a sweeping demand for two months of office, cellular and home telephone records from multiple Associated Press reporters and editors to investigate an alleged breach of national security.
The AP story in question, on a foiled terrorist plot, had been withheld for days at the request of the CIA. It finally went out on the wire on a Monday, after the AP was told that administration spokesmen would officially announce it the next day.
That tends to undercut Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that the story was based on one of “the top two or three most serious leaks that I have ever seen” and “put the American people at risk, and that is not hyperbole.”
I don’t think enough facts are known to conclude that Holder was wrong. But it does seem likely that the AP material was less damaging to national security than some stories The New York Times ran despite pleas from the George W. Bush administration.