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CNN Tells Viewers It's Illegal For Them To Read Wikileaks Document Dumps. CNN Is Wrong

Published: October 19, 2016
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Source: Tech Dirt

I cut the cord years ago, so the only time I stumble into cable "news" coverage is usually at the gym or airport. And time and time again I'm struck by how the empty prattle is more in line with dystopian satire than anything resembling actual news reporting or intellectual analysis. Even when these channels feature live breaking news stories, you'd be hard pressed to find a reporter willing to call up a source and confirm details of what's happening, resulting in something that's more akin to lobotomized speculation than the polished product of multi-billion-dollar media empires.

The latest case in point: CNN's Chris Cuomo was dissecting the latest Wikileaks document dump when he decided to "inform" viewers that it's illegal for anybody but a member of the media to download and view the contents of the Podesta leaks:

"...Remember, it’s illegal to possess these stolen documents. It’s different for the media. So everything you learn about this, you’re learning from us."

Yeah, that's not how the First Amendment works. Legal precedent has repeatedly made it clear that the First Amendment offers the same protection to the press as to the public, even when it comes to possessing or distributing illegally obtained material (just as long as you weren't directly involved in the theft of the material in question). In its 2001 Bartnicki v. Vopper decision, the Supreme Court rejected even civil liability for distributing illegally obtained cellphone recordings, and refused to differentiate the public from the media in its ruling:

"The . . . question is whether the application of these statutes [that purport to ban distributing illegally obtained material, even when one wasn’t involved in the distribution,] in such circumstances violates the First Amendment. [Footnote: In answering this question, we draw no distinction between the media respondents and Yocum.]"

As the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal's law blog were quick to highlight, that case cited New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which also treated press outlets and the public equally in the eyes of the law in such situations. The Supreme Court's Pearson v. Dodd ruling also makes clear that the possession of illegally leaked materials is simply not treated the same way as knowingly possessing physical, stolen property.

This isn't Cuomo's first run in with being violently wrong on legal fundamentals despite having graduated from Fordham with a law degree. He also took a bit of a beating last year when he apparently hallucinated a "hate speech" exception buried in the First Amendment. At some point you have to wonder if CNN is actively trying to be this bad at what it does, or if CNN boss Jeff Zucker is a subversive artist of the highest order, working tirelessly to craft a crushing, satirical look at modern American intellectual dysfunction.

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