Michael Barone

Fortunately things changed after Wilson left office. A Republican Congress allowed the Sedition Act to expire in 1921.

Debs, who received 915,000 votes for president in 1920 while in Atlanta federal prison, was pardoned by Republican President Warren Harding (a former journalist) and invited to the White House.

The Espionage Act of 1917 remained on the books and was amended to cover news media. But it was used sparingly.

Franklin Roosevelt, who served in the Wilson administration, didn't use it in World War II. When his attorney general urged him to prosecute the Chicago Tribune for a story three days before Pearl Harbor detailing military plans for a possible world war, he brushed the recommendation aside.

That despite the fact that New Deal Democrats were as paranoid about the Republican and isolationist Tribune as conservatives have been in recent times about The New York Times.

Roosevelt did order the internment of West Coast Japanese-Americans in 1942. But an act apologizing for that and providing restitution was passed with bipartisan majorities and signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Presidents and attorney generals of both parties have been reluctant to use the Espionage Act when secret information has been leaked to the press because they have recognized that it is overbroad.

They have understood, as Moynihan argues in "Secrecy," that government classifies far too many things as secrets, even as it has often failed to protect information that truly needs to stay secret.

Barack Obama and his Justice Department seem to be of a different mind. They have used the Espionage Act of 1917 six times to bring cases against government officials for leaks to the media -- twice as many as all their predecessors combined.

"Gradually, over time," Moynihan writes, "American government became careful about liberties." Now, suddenly, it seems to be moving in the other direction.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM