Media execs tell Holder reporters need freedom to do their jobs
May 30th, 2013
08:46 PM ET
9 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. Jean-Sartre

    It took a great deal of time, effort and money to cultivate a person who eventually got into an al Qaeda organization. This individual then thwarted a plot to blow up a plane. Some in the media knew this, and in spite of the risks to this individual's life, and future information that this individual both would and could provide to prevent future attacks, they essentially went ahead and revealed enough information for al Qaeda to identify him.

    In my opinion the Justice Department was well within its role to investigate, obtain emails, phone calls, etc. Yes we need the media to be free to disclose things that our government, businesses and other folks may be doing that are illegal or of a questionable nature. This is simply not one of those situations...

    This is more along the lines of Cheney outing CIA agent, Valerie Plane…

    May 31, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  2. pjoe

    Dear President Obama,

    We apologize for any negative news that may have been reported against your administration. Rest assured, we will discipline all reporters who say less than flattering things about you.

    You are the most awesome President ever.

    Warm regards,

    The Press

    May 31, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  3. old professor

    While the press has been given a green light to cooperate with leakers....the leakers of classified information have committed serious transgressions against the US of A and the press will be under investigation in the attempts to identify the leakers of classified information. That is not going to change.

    May 31, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  4. noteasilyswayed

    It would be wise to assume that everything you write on the internet could potentially end up published, or, at least, publicly known. If you are a reporter and do not want your sources outed, stay off the damn internet and do not text your sources or have them text you.

    May 31, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  5. Thomas

    Off the record? Everything the press folks said in that meeting was on the record. The DOJ record. It is naive to assume there were no notes taken by clandestine means. Evidently you fools forgot completely about the Watergate era. Reporters must work tech free if they want to be secure. Full disclosure by the government is the only solution. Exposing a crime is not a violation of national security.

    May 31, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  6. Ray1066

    OK, am I missing something here. The key words in this whole thing are "classified information" Does anyone in the press or the Washington know what this even means? By providing or printing any of this information several laws have been broken and these people are putting the lives of diplomats and service people not to mention the public in harms way. It not only is illegal it comes close to treason.
    Never mind hidingn behind the first ammendment. That is not what it was ingtended to do and I bet the drafters of the constitution are rolling over in their graves. Sham on us.

    May 31, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  7. Rod C. Venger

    Shame on those that attended! This was all about damage control and a lack of accountability. Holder got to get his message out but those that attended will be providing no quotes and nothing that was said can be used to further the investigation. It was wholly self-serving on the part of the government. If this was really a transparent Administration, these briefings would have aired on CSPAN at the very least. But no. Holder apparently expressed some regret that it had gotten to this point, but I ask myself, did he say that because of a genuine regret for making poor decisions, or the fact that he got caught?

    May 31, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  8. pjoe

    Why does the "Most Transparent Administration In HISTORY!!!" care about leaks anyway?

    May 31, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
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