Blankley distorted Espionage Act conviction in arguing for federal investigation of journalist Hersh


In his January 19 syndicated column, titled "Espionage by any other name," Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley suggested that a January 17 New Yorker article about U.S. military operations in Iran written by journalist Seymour M. Hersh might be in violation of Title 18, Section 794 of the U.S. Code, also known as the Espionage Act of 1917 -- a crime, Blankley noted, punishable "by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life." But he misrepresented a case that he cited in support of his argument.

Anticipating the obvious response that journalists enjoy some First Amendment protection from prosecution under the Espionage Act, Blankley asserted that "at least one journalist writing for Jane's Publications [a British publisher of defense information] has been successfully prosecuted under the statute." But in the case to which Blankley was apparently referring, the person was not prosecuted in his capacity as a journalist. Rather, while Samuel L. Morison was a part-time editor of a Jane's publication, it was in his capacity as a civilian analyst in the Office of Naval Intelligence that he had access to classified documents, and it was in that capacity that he was charged with unlawful disclosure to the press under the Espionage Act and with theft of government property. Indeed, Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote on October 5, 2003, that the prosecution of Morison, whom Liptak identified as a "Navy analyst," "proceeded without the cooperation of the journalist[] involved." Specifically, Morison was convicted in 1985 for selling photographs of a Soviet nuclear-powered carrier to a separate Jane's publication.

According to an October 8, 1984, New York Times article, the head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press recognized that Morison was not being charged for his role as a journalist but as a naval analyst, saying: "It does not pose a threat to the press to prosecute somebody who gives out information that is a direct, immediate and irreparable threat to the national security."

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, National Security & Foreign Policy
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