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Editorial: A Most Dangerous Game

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has teamed up with the Associated Press to take on the Justice Department and FBI in court. Good for them.

They want access to records that would show just how often the government decides that posing as journalists and planting fake news stories is a good idea.

AP and the committee want to know just how prevalent the practice is after it was revealed in 2014 that the FBI had planted a fake AP news story to get a criminal suspect to download surveillance software.

And it gets worse. In the wake of the 2014 revelations, the AP said in announcing the filing, FBI director James Comey revealed in an op-ed in The New York Times that an agent had impersonated an AP reporter in order to get close to a suspect. According to the AP, Carney also said that was not improper conduct and he did not rule out using a similar ruse in the future if need be. Creating an environment where every journalist or story could be a government plant clearly undermines the credibility, independence and safety of journalists everywhere.

After the operation was revealed in 2014, thanks to a FOIA request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Reporters Committee and more than two dozen news outlets wrote then Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI director calling it “unacceptable.” The AP and the committee submitted FOIA requests for documents, none of which were turned over, said AP; the news organizations concluded that it was time to go to court to force the issue.

“We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists,” the Reporters Committee said.

Neither can we.