White House spokesman Jay Carney says his boss is a fan of the First Amendment.
Well, bully for President Barack Obama. Perhaps he should start acting like it.
The First Amendment, which among other things guarantees freedom of the press, is no abstraction, no intellectual plaything of constitutional law professors, such as Obama used to be.
The American way of life and self-governance is intertwined with the nitty-gritty ability of journalists to discover and report on matters of public interest that movers and shakers — public and private — would just as soon keep quiet. This means getting people in a position to know to talk, often on the conditions that the information will be verified, but that the original source will be kept confidential.
In recognition of this media function, the Department of Justice, by its own rules, is supposed to exhaust other potential avenues of investigation first and, then, if no alternative exists, strictly limit the scope of its investigation.
That doesn't seem to be what happened in the Justice Department's investigation of The Associated Press, which, by the government's account, has included secret subpoenas for two months of telephone records potentially involving more than 100 journalists working on all manner of stories.
The government hasn't said what it's investigating, but there is known Department of Justice interest in how AP came to report a foiled al-Qaida plot to explode a bomb headed for the United States in spring 2012.
The Associated Press, by the way, held its report on that plot at the request of government officials, who said the story might harm national security. After those officials said national security was no longer at risk, the story was reported, but over the protests of the White House, which wanted first to be able to make an official announcement.
We understand that finding the middle ground between the nation's physical security and its political well-being is a never-ending balancing act. Further, journalists can claim no absolute immunity from investigations into potentially criminal activity.
At the same time, it has long been understood that the ability of journalists to bring secret information to light provides the public with an important counterbalance to what would otherwise be an all-powerful government.
By overreaching in this case, the Obama administration has risked a broad chilling effect on every potential whistleblower who now will be reluctant to bring what they know to journalists.
That doesn't sound like the work of a fan of the First Amendment. It sounds downright dangerous.