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10 Other Times The Government Messed With The Press

The Justice Department may have seized AP phone records, but it's not the first time the U.S. government has gone after journalists.

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1. Abraham Lincoln's patience for free speech was tested during the Civil War when two New York newspapers, the Journal of Commerce and the World, wrote a fake story about the president. He ordered them shut down and their publishers imprisoned.

Lincoln also had The Independent Telegraph System, which dispersed the story, taken over by the military.

2. Before that, Lincoln's General Ambrose Burnside shut down the Chicago Times for three days in 1863 for speaking out against the president.

Mike Munden / AP

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets when the Times was shut. In response, Lincoln, who hadn't supported Burnside's decision to shut the newspaper down, ordered that it be allowed to resume publication.


3. The Sedition Act of 1798 made it illegal to openly criticize the government.

The law was created to specifically target media who opposed the Federalist Party, then led by President John Adams. An estimated 25 individuals were arrested under the act. Among them were editors of the General Advertiser in Philadelphia; the Boston Independent Chronicle, and the Vermont Gazette, as well as printers who worked for them.

4. Charles Schenck was arrested in 1917 under the Espionage Act when he, along with some of his cohorts, distributed leaflets protesting the draft.

The Espionage Act was made even stronger with the renewal of the Sedition Act in 1918. Schenck's case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Act did not violate Schenck's First Amendment rights.

5. For about six decades, leftist journalist I.F. Stone's every move was closely monitored by the FBI.

But the bureau had trouble keeping tabs on him. Stone, whose full name was Isidor Feinstein Stone, appears in FBI records as "Isadore Finkelstein Stone," "Isidor Feinsteine" and "Isadore Finglestein Stone." Informants were conflicted about Stone's bio as well. Some said Stone was a member of the Communist Party while another said he was "certainly not" a member. Whatever the case, Stone was closely watched by the bureau for nearly his entire career. He first drew the attention of the FBI when he uncovered secret FBI guidelines for detecting subversives within the government in an article for The Nation in the 1930s.

6. The Nixon White House spied on some reporters who covered the war in Vietnam. When William Beecher of The New York Times broke a story about secret bombings in Cambodia, the FBI began wiretapping his calls.

The Associated Press / AP

Beecher's report contradicted the White House's claims that it wanted to end the war. The bombings were obviously known about in Cambodia, but the U.S. had been keeping reports of them from the American public. But Beecher was far from the only reporter infamous FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover spied on, and it wasn't always because of the war.

7. Los Angeles Times reporter Jack Nelson drew the watchful eye of J. Edgar Hoover when the FBI director mistakenly believed Nelson planned to out him as gay.

Keystone / Via http://Photo%20by%20Keystone%20/%20Getty%20Images

Hoover reportedly issued memos to his staff calling Nelson a "mental case," a "rat," a "jackal," and a "lice-covered ferret."

8. An international press organization based out of Austria accused the Justice Department of illegally seizing an AP reporter's phone records in 2001.

Just days after a report from AP reporter John Solomon came out about a wiretap intercept involving a U.S. Senator, the Justice Department seized his phone records to find out who had leaked information, apparently foregoing the normally required steps to get approval for such a request. Sound familiar?

9. The FBI improperly seized phone records from the Indonesia bureaus of The New York Times and the Washington Post in 2004.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

But they didn't admit it until 2008, when FBI Director Robert Mueller called editors at both the Times and the Post to apologize for the incident. The FBI learned of the violation during a Justice Department review of the bureau's overzealous use of "emergency" records requests from phone companies.

10. Actually, from 2002-2006, the FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 phone records from the media and citizens.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Then-FBI counsel Valerie Caproni said the bureau violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when agents made up emergencies to collect phone records. The illegal requests were approved by agents as high up as assistant director.

Jacob Fischler is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.

Contact Jacob Fischler at

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