Under intense scrutiny over the Justice Department’s targeting of the Associated Press and James Rosen, Attorney General Eric Holder wants to meet with Washington bureau chiefs from major media outlets to discuss his department’s guidelines for dealing with journalists during leak investigations. The only catch, however, is that the meeting is off-the-record, meaning that the substance of the discussion can’t be made public.
That is a problem for many news agencies. The Associated Press, CNN, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times have all said that they will not attend the meeting unless it is on-the-record. The sentiment is that a discussion about the freedom of the press, which is protected by the First Amendment, should be open and transparent:
The Associated Press issued a statement Wednesday objecting to plans for the meetings to be off the record. “If it is not on the record, AP will not attend and instead will offer our views on how the regulations should be updated in an open letter,” said Erin Madigan White, the AP’s media relations manager.
The New York Times is taking the same position. “It isn’t appropriate for us to attend an off-the-record meeting with the attorney general,” executive editor Jill Abramson said in a statement.
Like the New York Times and the Associated Press, CNN will decline the invitation for an off-the-record meeting. A CNN spokesperson says if the meeting with the attorney general is on the record, CNN would plan to participate.
The Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief, Ryan Grim, also said he will not attend unless the meeting is on the record. “A conversation specifically about the freedom of the press should be an open one. We have a responsibility not to betray that,” Grim told CNN.
This is the latest in a string of headaches for Holder. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee launched its investigation into whether Holder committed perjury during a hearing earlier this month. At issue is his comments about prosecuting the press for reporting information obtained through leaks from the government.
In response to a friendly question from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Holder said, “With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy. In fact, my view is quite the opposite.”
Holder was only dealing with the seizure of Associated Press phone records at that time. But the James Rosen story broke just days later, after he testified before the committee. Rosen was named as a co-conspirator in an affidavit seeking a search warrant for his private e-mails. The Justice Department later confirmed that Holder approved affidavit himself.
The Justice Department and the White House have defended Holder’s testimony before the committee and a Democratic National Committee spokesman had the audacity to tweet that some media outlets’ decisions not attend “[k]ind of forfeits [their] right gripe.”
While this matter needs investigation and the concerns over the targeting of the press need to be allayed, it all starts with Holder. Jonathan Turley, a civil liberties advocate and law professor at George Washington University, said it best in an op-ed at USA Today — Holder lacks credibility to investigate this matter and it’s time for him to go.