Media execs tell Holder reporters need freedom to do their jobs
May 30th, 2013
08:46 PM ET
11 months ago

Media execs tell Holder reporters need freedom to do their jobs

(CNN) – Justice Department officials expressed a measure of regret on Thursday that the agency went as far as it did in national security leak investigations involving close scrutiny of reporters, and expressed a commitment to review its guidelines so reporters would not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.

That was a readout of a meeting on Thursday between Attorney General Eric Holder and media executives over the agency's policies, according to journalists who attended the discussion.

“We expressed our concerns that reporters felt some fear for doing their jobs, that they were concerned about using their e-mail, using their office telephone and that we need to have the freedom to do their job,” Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said after the meeting concluded.

Baron called the meeting, which added a new twist to an already controversial matter, “constructive.” Another said it was a “starting point,” while a third participant said there was no certainty that any major changes would be made in the near future.

Holder sat down Thursday and will do so again Friday with print, broadcast and news wire outlets to talk about Justice Department policies as it faces criticism over how it has handled two investigations in which classified information was obtained by the Associated Press and Fox News.

In addition to Baron, Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal and Jim Warren of the New York Daily News also spoke to reporters.

Some organizations, including CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters, refused to attend, citing ground rules that the meeting would be “off the record” in the midst of ongoing news stories about leaks.

Asked why he decided to attend, Baron said such meet-ups are “not unusual” in Washington.

“People in the press frequently have off-the-record discussions with newsmakers. This is not unusual in any respect,” he said. “Many of the organizations that chose not to come also participate in off-the-record discussions.

“This was an opportunity for us to share our views with the people at the highest levels of the Justice Department,” he said. “So that's what we did.”

The controversies stem from leak investigations over classified information regarding North Korea reported by Fox News Reporter James Rosen and a separate investigation about a thwarted airliner bomb plot reported by the Associated Press. As part of these probes, the DOJ obtained journalists’ phone records as well as, in the case of Fox News, email records. The subpoena for the AP's phone records and the one for the Fox News reporter's personal emails were kept secret.

News organizations and many members of Congress have criticized Holder and the Obama administration for going too far in these investigations, using overly broad criteria–and secrecy–for their searches of the records.

Meeting participants spoke in general terms about the session with Holder.

Without going into specifics, Seib described it as a “starting point” and said there were “plenty of indications that (Justice Department officials) were unhappy, regretful that this got to this point.”

Warren said the conversation included talk of a “legal and statutory nature” but expressed no certitude that big changes were coming anytime soon.

“Who knows what's going to happen if they in fact are going to practice what they seem to preach and try to change some laws that we feel are very relevant,” he said. “But I think it's sort of an opening gambit, an opening discussion.”

Last week President Barack Obama said he had asked Holder to conduct a review of how the Justice Department investigates media organizations as part of its greater effort to crack down on leaks of classified national security information.

Speaking on Thursday, Obama said he was "troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable."

Holder's long-time friend Reid Weingarten, a Washington attorney, told CNN Thursday that off-the-record sessions would not be meant as a mea culpa.

"This is not about Eric Holder giving his defense. This is a policy discussion Eric has been instructed to do by the president. He was people to sit down and roll up their sleeves," Weingarten said. "This is not a charm offensive. This is substantive."

– CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger contributed to this report.


Filed under: Eric Holder • Justice Department
soundoff (83 Responses)
  1. Marie MD

    The media in the US is a joke. You have reporters that can't ask an intelligent question nor are they interested in anything but what's "big" news today. Never mind everything else going on around them.

    May 30, 2013 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  2. PJ

    Big disappointment in those who "refused not to attend". This was a great opportunity for all to come together and
    discuss differences, have a better understanding of each sides view, and, perhaps come to some
    conclusion that aids in finding those who leak, thereby putting some in danger by doing so, and realizing that some
    things are left untold.
    Not surprised that CNN, Faux News, and the NY Times are in the same bed, And, of course, AP is pouting.
    But Reuters and, I think someone said NBC, should have been there.
    Like the man said, "This was an opportunity to share our views with people at the highest levels of the
    Justice Department, so that's what we did".
    Good for him and the others.

    May 30, 2013 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  3. Mike Texoma

    If the information is important to the security of this nation, and if the leak involves criminal conduct, the media don't get to tell the Justice Dept. how to do the Justice Dept's job.

    May 30, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  4. smdahl

    Why should we care about the press when the msm says nothing about the fact that every phone call, email and keystroke of every single American is recorded by the NSA?

    May 30, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  5. I Can Read

    But this was all off the record correct? Why has CNN's integrity vanished? You should have taken a stand and reminded Obama about his pledge to have the most Open and Transparent administration ever and also not attended!!
    But that would take integrity and you did the opposite...citing something as news that has no official record
    Fox is slanted Right same as CNN and MSNBC slant Left
    Ted Turner...start a new Open and Transparent NEWS organization....there seems to be a vacuum at the moment

    May 30, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  6. king

    now the media is free to do what they want for the almighty dollar and ratings, what kind of kakememe country are we living in, when the rich and powerful can do what they please with our national security and the government better not say or do a thing to stop them. is this the way the future of our country is heading, this is most scary.

    May 30, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  7. cassius

    I want a guarantee that if I break the law just doing my job that i will be safe from prosecution.

    May 30, 2013 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  8. msmarlene

    What kind of sentence is, "He was people to sit down and roll up their sleeves"? (final paragraph)
    If Weingarten meant, "He wants people to sit down and roll up their sleeves", who should and why would they?
    Holder should have regrets. He himself signed the papers to go after James Rosen. He lied to Congress about having anything to do with the DOJ targeting reporters and now he's supposed to investigate himself on the matter. The only thing that Justice Department officials are unhappy and regretful about is that they were caught.

    May 30, 2013 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  9. Evergreen

    It is not part ot the medias job to report where CIa agents are working undercover. What is the point of having covert operations if everything they are doing is published for the world to read. Believe it or not, we are still at war.

    May 30, 2013 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    Did Holder fully disclose any other events where similar spying on the press took place?

    May 30, 2013 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  11. Doc

    There is freedom of the press to allow non-partisan oversight of government at all levels to check corruption. Freedom of the press does not and should never go so far as breaching national security in search of a good story. The AP story compromised agents and counter-terrorism operations and methods. The story could have been run past a liaison officer. Were we to reverse the situation, say an under cover investigative journalist having his cover blown deliberately by a police officer or gov't agent thereby putting his life at risk we'd be hearing them scream bloody murder about that.

    May 30, 2013 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  12. Dave Long

    Whose bidding is the AG doing? There's nothing in Obama's DNA to suggest he supports this journalistic persecution.

    May 30, 2013 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  13. snotfair

    Another meeting. Another attempt by Eric Holder to kiss butt + make-up... another web woven!

    May 30, 2013 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  14. KBNJ

    This meeting is total BS. DOJ accessed personal phone and email accounts illegally. PERIOD. They are NOT above the law; people need to be at minimum fired, and in my opinion, jailed for abuse of power. Holder needs to GO NOW.

    May 30, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  15. MNResident

    This administration can SAY anything. It's the ACTIONS that count. There is NOTHING to prevent this administration from continuing their methods that have given reporters and others pause, only to find out much later what happened and receive another "expression of regret". How often are members of the media going to be attacked by this administration (along wih other people and organizations perceived as their "enemies") before the real light goes on......

    May 30, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  16. wade

    ABC and the excuse for a news company politico is going to meet with Holder.

    May 30, 2013 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  17. Steve- Illinois

    The White House announced yesterday, that President Obama "still has complete confidence in AG Holder." In political speech that's the equivelent of "You're fired!"
    Holder has a couple of monthys, tops. Then he's gone.

    May 30, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  18. Bill from GA

    The Media: "We're On A Mission From God".

    They don't grasp the difference between breaking a major government scandal (Watergate) and getting the jump (for capitalistic gain) on a story soon to be released (maybe) but that in the government's opinion needs to be kept quiet a bit longer.

    And I am fed up with the Obama Administration apologizing for upholding the Law. If journalists have to break the law to do their job, be prepared to face the consequences, and make sure the end justifies the means.

    May 30, 2013 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  19. marctheduck

    The Justice Dept expressed a measure of regret because they got caught.

    May 30, 2013 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  20. Logic N LA

    The government also needs a certain amount of discretion from reporters in the interest of national security. Too many "news" organizations are in such a rush to be first to press, they forget what harm they may cause or misinformation they will dispense.

    May 30, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  21. obamacansaveyourhouselosangeles

    They are only unhappy that they got caught. otherwise they will surely do this again.

    May 31, 2013 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  22. KEVIN

    We demand Justice! Justice! Justice will be done! Those who question my evaluation of affairs will have to face the hand of JUSTICE!!!

    May 31, 2013 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  23. pat

    Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin and Paul Bagaaaaaaaaaaaaala, carrying the water , all day long! Low, Ri, Da – just a little slower now! Da dadadadah, dada da da dah!

    May 31, 2013 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  24. pat

    Criminals going to jail are regretful to!

    May 31, 2013 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  25. splinter48708

    Remember...Asking the AG to review him actions and those under his command is like asking the leader of the wolfpack to review how the latest hunts turned out. The answer will be "We did everything right and enjoyed the lamb very well. Thank you for asking."

    May 31, 2013 01:49 am at 1:49 am |
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