When I was in fifth grade, one of my teachers went to visit Russia. I remember her telling us how there were fairly obvious wires going from their hotels rooms to the end of hall where government monitors could spy on guests.
Around the same time, I heard a Soviet joke: An American says, “American is a great country, I can say I hate President Reagan out loud on the street and I won’t get in trouble.” The Russian replies, “So? I can say that I hate that American President Reagan, too.”
The Cold War was in full effect, and spying on citizens, or controlling the press, was supposed to be something they did, our Soviet nemesis that Reagan called an “evil empire,” and what separated us from them, was that we were free, our rights protected.
Perhaps I was naive, but as a child of the ’80’s, this is what I learned as right and wrong. These days, when I hear about something that sounds like the government abusing civil liberties, I’m concerned, but I like to at least consider that maybe there’s another side of the story. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding. Perhaps, from the government’s perspective, they were doing the right thing.
But it’s hard to see how spying on the AP could be seen as doing the right thing. It’s not just a violation of someone’s privacy, it’s a violation of freedom of the press stated in the Constituion. And it’s not just a violation of a website that wants to see itself as “the press,” it’s spying on an institution that is literally the backbone of the free press.