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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2005
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EDITORIAL

New York Times ruling healthy for democracy

The New York Times won a federal court ruling last week, which every American should cheer.

The judge said the U.S. Justice Department was out of line in subpoenaing two journalists' phone records following the 9/11 attacks.

"The free press has long performed an essential role in ensuring against abuses of governmental power," Judge Robert W. Sweet said.

The Justice Department wanted the records to find the source of leaks from within the government, not as part of a grand jury investigation but for intimidation purposes.

The judge noted that government secrecy appears to be on the rise as he refused to throw out the newspaper's lawsuit against the Justice Department.

One of the ironies in political parties re-inventing themselves is that Republicans as warriors and champions of deficit spending also readily embrace the Big Brother mentality. They used the Sept. 11 attacks to clamp down on individual freedoms and to poke into personal lives in unprecedented ways.

Going after the press in order to stop leaks is a form of secrecy in government that is not healthy. Democracy thrives only when people have access to and knowledge of government.

The news media make mistakes and sometimes abuse their constitutional privileges, but without freedom from government intimidation the free flow of information and opinions would stop and so would democracy.

Just last week, President Bush cited a crackdown on the press in Russia as evidence President Vladimir Putin is backing away from democracy in that old bastion of communism.

The news media's First Amendment protection is only as good as federal court rulings, which over the life of the nation have been the buffer between government abuse and a free and open society.

That's why Americans should cheer Judge Sweet's ruling.

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