Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to protect the first amendment rights of the media at a closed door, off-the-record meeting. The meeting took place with the media after it was revealed that the DOJ subpoenaed thousands of pages of AP reporter’s phone records and obtained a secret warrant for FNC’s James Rosen’s (and his parents) phone records, emails and tracked his movement.
Holder “pledged Thursday to take concrete steps to address concerns that the Justice Department has overreached in its leak investigations and said officials would seek procedural and possibly legislative changes to protect journalists’ First Amendment rights.”
Many news organization refused to attend the 90 minute meeting with Holder, as the DOJ insisted it be off-the-record. The DOJ agreed that participants could “describe” what took place at the meeting.
During the meeting Thursday, journalists expressed concern about the chilling effect on reporters who now fear exposure of their sources and government officials who now fear the consequences of speaking candidly to the media. They were particularly concerned about the Justice Department’s secrecy in obtaining phone records from news organizations.
In addition to reviewing those guidelines, Holder and his deputy, James M. Cole, said Thursday that they would consider supporting statutory changes that would sharply reduce the chance that a journalist would be described as a possible “co-conspirator” in a crime as part of an effort to obtain a search warrant.
Among those who attended the meeting were the Wall Street Journal, Politico and the New York Daily News. The Hill is reporting that Holder will hold more meetings today.
“They don’t help us inform the public,” McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher told Poynter about off-the-record meetings. “This one seems designed mostly to make a public relations point and not a substantive one. If the government wants to justify its pursuit of journalists, they ought to do it in public.”
The Washington Post defended their decision to attend the meetings:
“I prefer that any meeting be on the record,” Washington Post editor-in-chief Marty Baron said. “That said, journalists routinely participate in off-the-record sessions, whether they prefer those conditions or not, and then continue to report on events. I am going to this meeting in order to represent our interests as journalists and to raise our concerns. I’ll also listen to what the Attorney General has to say. I trust that our journalists will report on this as vigorously as they would any other subject.”