Jane Harman’s Press Battles

New NewsBeast director has tense relationship with Fourth Estate

During her long political career, Jane Harman often took positions that clashed with free-press values. Now, Harman, 65, is the director of a major media outlet, as she takes the place of Sidney Harman at the Newsweek Daily Beast Co.

Jane Harman pledged to support “the best of journalism” in succeeding her late husband on the board. After his death April 12, it was expected that a Harman would step up to represent the family’s interest in the company, which formed in February when Sidney Harman's Newsweek merged with The Daily Beast. But Jane Harman is a curious choice, considering her history of butting heads with the press and civil liberties advocates.

Harman, a California Democrat who recently resigned from Congress to become president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, took moderate and liberal stances on health and social issues like abortion rights and stem-cell research. But she also supported the war in Iraq and the government’s warrantless wiretapping of citizens, calling it essential to national security (although she protested after learning her own conversations were secretly recorded).

In 2005, Harman lobbied The New York Times not to publish a story about the wiretapping program, and then accused the paper of damaging national security and calling for “limits on press immunity” after the story ran.

In 2007, she introduced an anti-terrorism bill, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, that the ACLU warned would put unconstitutional limits on free speech and beliefs.

Harman also was linked to a major espionage scandal in 2009. In that case, she reportedly was caught on wiretap saying she would intervene in a spying case involving officials of the lobbying group American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in exchange for help getting her appointed to the House Intelligence Committee.