Much of the loudest buzzing has centered around the news that the Justice Department labeled Fox News reporter James Rosen a conspirator for soliciting information from a State Department contractor for a story. It caught my attention that ABC's Jack Tapper, in commenting on the Justice Department's treatment of Rosen, remarked that this is sarcastically being referred to as "a conspiracy to commit journalism."
I also found an opinion piece by Xeni Jardin using that phrase as the caption.
I then remembered where I first heard this phrase. In was in a 2001 column by Ann Coulter, in which she discussed the Senate Democrats' attempt to torpedo the nomination of Ted Olson for Solicitor General. The torpedo was Olson's association with The American Spectator ("TAS") and its "Arkansas Project."
I should back up. In 1994, TAS pushed over the first domino that would ultimately lead to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton with the publication of "His Cheatin' Heart," an article by David Brock about Gov. Clinton's use of Arkansas State Troopers to help facilitate his multiple trysts. (I think I first subscribed to TAS in '92, and I remember the article well.)
This was followed by several more investigative stories aimed at the Clintons. Funding for these stories came, in part, from the Scaife Foundation. This newly enhanced investigative function of TAS came to be known as the Arkansas Project. Some of what the Arkansas Project uncovered became part of the Kenneth Starr investigation, and at least one of Starr's witnesses, Judge Hale from Arkansas, was also a source for some of the TAS pieces.
The Clinton forces, bloodied and bruised but not out, managed to get a special counsel of their own appointed to investigate the Arkansas Project. The primary allegation was that of witness tampering, but in the end, TAS itself was being investigated. There were no indictments, and the special counsel concluded that no crimes had been committed. But the investigation just about ended TAS. I remember that the publication was taken over by George Gilder, who acted as sort of a caretaker, at the time. All but two members of the staff were fired or left.
Returning to the nomination of Ted Olson, the Arkansas Project was used against him on the basis of Olson having served on the board of the American Spectator Foundation during the time of the Arkansas Project. In criticizing this attack on Olson, Ann Coulter, began her column with the following:
Last week, every Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against Ted Olson, Bush's nominee for solicitor general. The Democrats are troubled by accusations that Olson may have associated with conservatives who were conspiring to commit journalism.I have no idea whether Ann Coulter was the first to use that phrase, but that's the first place I saw it. In 2007, Ted Olson was nominated to be Attorney General and the Arkansas Project once again came up. Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal then published the following in its editorial:
Ultimately the Spectator board voted to shut down the project, and in any case committing journalism is not a crime. The Arkansas Project was never accused of breaking any laws, although the Clinton Justice Department did investigate the magazine over the campaign, which strikes us as a much creepier sort of partisanship than exercising one's First Amendment rights.Referring to it as a "creepier sort of partisanship" is somewhat of an understatement. In essence, the president used the power of the Justice Department to go after his enemies and attempt to silence, if not jail, the reporters and publishers doing him harm. At the time, I thought it betrayed ideological blindness and shortsightedness on the part of the mainstream press when it looked the other way and pretended not to notice. Now that the current Justice Department is tapping the phones of the AP, they are taking notice.
"Conspiracy to commit journalism" is a clever phrase, but unfortunately, this is not the first time such sarcasm is warranted.