In a larger sense, though, what information is or is not classified, and what legal protections reporters may or may not have, are beside the point—as these NSA stories have revealed. [The Guardian’s outside counsel, David] Schulz responded to [Washington Post reporter Barton] Gellman’s concerns with this frightening truth: “The technology that we have today, you don’t need to subpoena a reporter anymore. There’s an ability to find out who gave out any information,” said Schulz. “And we should all be very concerned about that, because we all need whistleblowers…. If we don’t have a mechanism that allows for whistleblowers, our whole society is going to suffer.” [...]It was particularly timely that the discussion was held this week, just after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke of journalists as "accomplices" of Snowden, a term that certainly Gellman considered to be threatening. It was his question about it that prompted the above discussion.
[Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center at the journalism school] agreed: “Where oversight has failed, a whistleblower and journalism has succeeded,” she said. “And yet the system is still wanting to punish, if you like, the one thing which has led to transparency and clarity.”
“But that should be completely unsurprising,” [The New York Times Jill] Abramson jumped in, citing the fact that the current administration has investigated seven “criminal leaks,” more than twice the number of such investigations, based on a law passed in 1917, pursued before President Obama took office. That such legal battles were still being fought by James Rosen, of Fox News, and James Risen, of the Times, were mentioned several times throughout the evening. [...]
“Instead of the position that journalists find themselves in where they’re being threatened with prosecution over identifying their sources, we are now being put in the position of something even more chilling—of being ‘co-conspirators,’” said Gibson. The accusation is now “‘You’re part of a conspiracy, possibly involving the KGB, or maybe China. Because the ordinary way of chilling journalism won’t work in this case. And I think this should be profoundly worrying, because that’s not going to stop. That is a ‘Journalism After Snowden’ problem.”
If journalists are feeling such a direct threat, it's not just Fourth Amendment rights for citizens that are jeopardized by the national security state. It's the Fifth Estate and the long tradition of a free press in the U.S.