Media execs tell Holder reporters need freedom to do their jobs
May 30th, 2013
08:46 PM ET
5 years 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. mkuske

    How idiotic is it to boycott a meeting and then report on it from the sanitized and filtered mouths of those who didn't have the scruples to also join the boycott? Total lack of commitment to principles CNN. Of course that's not exactly a shocker.

    May 31, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  2. mkuske

    How idiotic is it to boycott a meeting and then report on it anyway through the filtered mouths of those sympathetic to the ones being boycotted?

    Way to hold on to your journalistic principles CNN. Of course it's not a shocker that you didn't.

    May 31, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  3. Jerry

    "Off-the-record"?! WOW!!! Media attending the Hold-her pony show must be real morons. And, guess what?: The idea about the "off-the-record" press meeting was suggested by our illustrious/equally lying president. These liars are getting away with going beyond the laws of this country, and Américans are simply sitting back and enjoying/applauding the show.

    No wonder América is going down the tubes.

    Thank you Mr.Obama/Mr. Hold-her/Bobble Head Pelosi, Senile Reed, Weiner Wannabe Debbie W. Schultz, and other Obama butt kissing Democrats.

    My fellow Democrats, WAY to GO!!!

    May 31, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  4. D45

    One said the meeting was 'constructive and a starting point'. Constructive for whom? Holder? Holder is up to his ears in this and tries to sweet talk the press into believing everything is OK, and it won't happen again? I do not believe Holder for one tenth of a second on what he says.......he has lied before and until he admits it I won't believe anything he says or does...

    May 31, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  5. roger

    All the talking, which this administration is good at, will not change the fact that the law has been broken here and Holder committed perjury when he testified that he had no knowledge of what went on. He should be fired and then prosecuted.

    May 31, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  6. Joi Gibson

    Personally, I think the news organizations should have attended. It was an opportunity for both sides to speak their minds – what could be wrong with that? The press seems to think they are so almighty and can do whatever they want. Little do they know, they are not exactly held in high esteem – all they want is ratings and to get that they only cover the most controversial talking points; actual reporting of news is the last thing on their mind. To get a fair analysis of the actual news, you have to go to PBS News Hour or the BBC.

    May 31, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  7. Ceswho

    All media should be careful reporting on this "off the record meeting"'. Obama and Holder won't like it so you may
    Get audited by the IRS or visited by the FBI,or maybe the State Dept. will ask yoy to go to Benghazi to do a story for them. LOL at this hype to help Holder cover his behind.

    May 31, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  8. D45

    Joi Gibson Why attend? The so called 'Main Stream' media is already under Obama's spell,,,Obama and co can do no wrong! The reason for this 'Off the Record' meeting was to remind the press where they stood....i.e. my way or the highway!

    May 31, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  9. DJ in Texas

    The ones who are making all the noise now about the investigations are the SAME ones who were the most vocal about the leaks in the 1st place. So, Mr. Holder does exactly what they ask for. Now, agreed, they may have taken it too far, but one thing people are forgetting, it was all 100% legal. Subpeonas were given PRIOR to any wire tapping (unlike in the Bush admin where warrantless wiretapping was deemed OK).

    It has been proven that Fox News (or at least Newscorp) was notified about the investigations as well as the AP knew about them as well. The only thing kept secret was the monitoring of emails, but the warrant and subpeona existed for those as well.

    Again, the investigation may have gone too far, but legal. Also, let's think about national security............should there be reports of classified information if that information could hinder or harm national security?? Cover ups and scandals are one thing, but some classified information is just that, classified.

    Let's flip it around.......what if the Justice Dept did nothing to investigate the leaks? The same ones making noise now would be saying "he's too weak" or "he's not protecting America"......................Basically, damed if you do, damned if you don't.

    May 31, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  10. liberal disease

    The chief legal officer of the United states of America is breaking the law daily...Hows that Hopey and Changey working for Ya?

    May 31, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  11. Data Driven

    Freedom to do their jobs? Fine, but where was the outrage last decade on this topic, Media? You were cowed and servile in the Bush years. I'm not impressed.

    Also: freedom to do what? Leak information given to you by North Korean moles? I'd suggest waiting to whine about the 1st Amendment until Holder does something that's unjustifiable. Meantime, no crime committed by DOJ in either the Rosen or the bomb-plot cases. Basically, quit whining, Media. You had ample opportunities to stand up for your rights when they were attacked for no good reason last decade. You had ample opportunities to editorialize about the dangers of the Patriot Act. You SUPPORTED that measure, suggesting that those of us who were opposed were "soft on terror".

    Don't come crying to us now.

    May 31, 2013 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  12. JJ

    How did this guy ever become the AG???
    He was the MAIN guy involved with Bill Clinton's MARC RICH PARDON and Holder even said later that it was WRONG!!
    Seems to me this president was picking people for HIGH office based on race, color and loyalty instead of experience , integrity and ability.

    May 31, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  13. militarymom777

    I believe that the media has the right to great concern. Without the media being fair and being able to report on all news,it would be a devastating blow to our system. Its call "Checks and balances". I do feel the media is not going to give out information that would hurt our military or country. They think these things over very carefully. I wish to thank some of the non political media for helping keep our government in check.

    May 31, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  14. Sniffit

    Load of malarkey. They're not afraid of doing their jobs and getting prosecuted for it. They're afraid that they won't be able to offer criminal secret-leakers de facto immunity from prosecution via hiding their identities, which could...*gasp*...deter people from breaking the law and leaking national security secrets.

    May 31, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  15. Sniffit

    "The chief legal officer of the United states of America is breaking the law daily"

    Name those laws. Ready? Go.

    May 31, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  16. Sniffit

    "the first Democrat to stand up to the president will be the front runner and be on every media outlet as a hero and champion."

    Clinton still leads the polls against EVERYONE, regardless of party. Now go play your games...Benghazi ghazi bo bhazi banana fana fo fhazi....

    May 31, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  17. Booger

    Now if this was Obama seen in a photo with kidnappers, fauxnews would have a 5 day special broadcast and the witch-hunt would be on ! The House would demand emails, phone calls, and a special investigator. It would be grounds for impeachment !!!!!

    Rational "normal" Americans now completely understand the vengeful irrational ignorant hate that breeds in today's republican party, that is why the ROC is on the way to irrelevancy.

    Then the irrational nutters scream "why aren't you up in arms about Benghazi? where is the media fury?

    Well it's because the story the fauxnews is spinning is complete BS. and, ANY intelligent person knows it is.

    Yes, we'll still hear the nut-jobs for quite awhile longer but they are nothing more than little tiny barking dogs, which are ignored.

    Unfortunately, they will still continue to make yapping noises disturbing everybody else's peace.

    May 31, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  18. Moderate Sean

    Amen to your comments DJ in Texas and Joi Gibson!!

    May 31, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  19. Data Driven


    "Benghazi ghazi bo bhazi banana fana fo fhazi...."

    Oh man, that's good. So good. LOL!!!!

    May 31, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  20. catfishjoe

    Mr. Holder admits no self control., must have new rules to stop Mr. Holder, from doing the wrong thing. I guess Mr. Holder does not know right from wrong.

    May 31, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  21. are122

    CNN should have sent my favorite CNN reporter...Jeanne Moos

    May 31, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  22. Larry Moniz in New Jersey

    I voted democrat in the last two elections - the last two in which I'll vote democrat for the foreseeable future. Barack Obama has done a mediocre job as chief administrator for the nation and AG Holder feels he can violate, at will, the Bill of Rights and other sections of the Constitution. Holder should be fired and Obama left in place for the rest of his term. The reason to keep Obama is that the legal alternative is Joe Biden who would have even more disdain for the constitution-at least that's my view after 45 years as a professional writer and journalist.

    May 31, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  23. wizzard

    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.”

    The regret is that the JD should have been more secretive in its work...and as a result of that failing, news agencies will now be more secretive in theirs.

    May 31, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  24. Tom1940

    No matter what Eric Holder told the Media Bosses, his comments are irrelevant. Already held in Contempt of Congress on previous testimony, he is now in danger of being found to have lied to Congress by "irregularities" in testimony about his role in Foxnews/AP Hearings. The record stands as what Eric Holder is capable of. Obfuscation, withholding facts, disdain and outright indignation toward Congressmen when confronted by these "irregularities". His word is suspect. His person integrity in question, and as the "top cop", being relegated to being the butt of jokes in the media.
    Obama should dump him and move on.

    May 31, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  25. General Tso would be a bit more credible if you ocassionally expressed something other than blind partisan blather. There happen to be scumbags in both parties.....

    May 31, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
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