Credibility at Stake When Police Impersonate Journalists

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Writing for Reuters, media columnist Jack Shafer explains why FBI agents should not impersonate journalists, as they did during a 2007 investigation in Seattle. He writes, “Whenever police officers masquerade as journalists, they introduce doubt into the public's mind about whether the next person purporting to be a journalist is actually a police officer or the stories in the news are really bait set by police. It won't take too many acts of imposture like the FBI's in Seattle before the credibility of the press and the willingness of news sources to speak to reporters begins to fall, plugging the flow of information that nourishes a free society.”

Shafer concludes, “The American press is probably a more delicate institution than we'd like to admit. It survives as a credible outpost only as long as people regard it as independent of government power and influence, which is one of the reasons reporters seem so often to be picking fights with office-holders and government agencies. Any blurring of the line between government and press can only benefit the government at the expense of the press and the dilution of the best law the country has, the First Amendment.”

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