National Press Club Lauds Victory for Press Freedom in Watada Case

In a statement on its website, the National Press Club said:

Members of The National Press Club join their colleagues around the nation in celebrating the news that two journalists will not be subpoenaed to testify in the court martial of an Army officer, who has conceded that his quotes disparaging the administration's conduct of the war in Iraq were accurate.

Freelance journalist Sarah Olson and Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Gregg Kakesako were subpoenaed by the Army, which planned to call on them to verify quotes made by 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and missing troop movement. Two of the three conduct charges have been dropped in exchange for Watada's agreement that he was quoted accurately.

"This is a big win for all journalists," said Jerry Zremski, president of the National Press Club, which took a stand last week against the Army's subpoena of Olson. "When the government tries to drag reporters into court to testify about their work, it undermines their ability to freely report the news – and that means it undermines the First Amendment. The victory we achieved here is a sign that we can fight – and win – these battles for a free press."

John Stauber, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which founded Defend the Press, the coalition that supported Olson, said, "I think the fact that this was such an important matter to the National Press Club sent a wake-up call to the Army prosecutors and became a turning point in our case to drop the subpoena of journalists."

Olson called the development "a victory for the rights of journalists in the U.S. to gather and disseminate news free from government intervention, and for the rights of individuals to express personal, political opinions to journalists without fear of retribution or censure." She added, however, that "preservation of these rights clearly requires vigilance."

Olson is slated to join Defend the Press at a press conference in the National Press Club's Zenger Room at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1.


It's one small step for the press. And I'm glad they are off the hook. But let's pray that the press doesn't consider itslf off the case. And I don't mean simply the Lt's case. I mean the military-'justice' case. And since the MJ system is metastasizing into the civil (and Constitutuional) realm, then to kick some tire regarding the MJ/JAG system will lead to reversing the dangerous writ-creep that is starting to deform and weaken our Constitutional protections. It's not for nothing that Bush is appointing many ex-JAGs to serious positions: their approach to Law is that it is to be put at the service of Command and that they are the go-to guys for that 'mission'. Brrrrr. Grrrrr. Citizens of Press, to the barricades!

While I admire Ms Olsen's stance, it is important to note that the struggle IS NOT over. The reason Ms. Olsen's testimony is no longer necessary to the government building the case is not because the government had some great constitutional epiphany, but rather because Lt. Watada essentially got the reporters off the hook by attesting to the veracity of their reporting. I'm glad it has turned out this way for the press, but I do not see that it is in any way indicative of an idealogical "win".

It took the Army prosecutors to agree to drop the subpoenas of both the journalists and activists, and it took [[Sarah Olson]]'s bravery and obstinance, and the thousands of emails generated by and the scores of notable individuals and organizations putting their names on the line to force the Army to back off. Let's not make light of this as a major victory for press freedom, facilitated of course by the integrity and bravery of both Sarah Olson and [[Ehren Watada]]. It takes a powerful movement of citizens to stop wars and to protect rights of a free press and free people.