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Journalist James Rosen speaks about press freedoms under Obama administration

Grant Pender, Reporter

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Fox News Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen spoke Friday about national security reporting and press freedoms under President Barack Obama’s administration.

Rosen (Medill ’96) started his talk at the McCormick Foundation Center by giving advice on how to be a good journalist.

“Good reporters become reporters for only one reason: We suffer from a peculiar compulsion,” Rosen said. “We are not content merely to live in our times, we must chronicle them.”

He then told the crowd of about 100 students and faculty to never become the story.

For Rosen, though, that’s exactly what happened to him.

Rosen recounted his experience in May 2013 when he was at the center of a national story. It was revealed that three years prior, the U.S. Department of Justice labeled Rosen a “criminal co-conspirator” in order to secretly obtain search warrants to monitor his activity, which included access to telephone records and personal emails.

The controversy, which garnered the name “Rosengate,” generated a national discussion on the freedom of the press. Rosen described the actions taken against him by the Obama administration as “a series of unprecedented and plainly illegal measures.”

At the time, the Department of Justice was conducting a national security leak investigation, focusing on Rosen’s reporting of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“It marked, by all accounts, the first time in American history that a reporter had been designated a criminal by the United States government simply for doing his job,” Rosen said.

Thomas Yau, a Medill graduate student from Hong Kong, was one of the many students who attended the event.

“I’m not from this country but nonetheless I found it shocking that it happens in America,” Yau said. “For me it’s kind of disturbing that a journalist can become a story himself. It obviously creeps into his personal life and that’s got to be stressful.”

Medill senior Mary McGrath said she attended the event with her Media Law and Ethics class.

“Our professor thought it would be a really good way to learn about journalists’ privilege because Rosen obviously had some big issues with the First Amendment,” she said. “It made me glad that there were people that were willing to speak out about this because it’s obviously a big issue and I wouldn’t want it to go unnoticed. I’m glad that he has continued to speak about it and publicize the issue.”

Rosen concluded his talk by saying the greatest threat to reporters today is not the unwarranted intrusion, which he experienced, but rather the many distractions that come in our “sensory overload age,” with the rise of technology.

“If you don’t find some efficient way of managing your time,” Rosen said, “your problem will not be the National Security Agency or Eric Holder, but rather … accomplishing the core set of objectives that comprise your job.”

Email: grantpender2018@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @grantpender

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