Yesterday a number of press outlets met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss why the Department of Justice is so enamored with the idea of involving journalists and their parents in leak investigations. A number of high-profile media outlets declined, including the Associated Press and Fox News, both of whom have seen more than enough of the Justice Department for a while, but some persisted in their pursuit of truth, justice and the possibility of earning a batch of cupcakes for their White House press room hovel by attending the meeting.
Ironically, the meeting about transparency was off the record, though it turns out some of the outlets were able to negotiate the ability to report on the meeting in generalities and using vague language that was pre-approved by the World’s Top Protector of Press Freedom. Included in the list of sanctioned descriptors? Information that, yes, indeed, the Justice Department is on the side of the people who report the news.
Well, some of the news, anyway.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. 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.
Holder’s commitment came at a private meeting with news executives after criticism that the Justice Department had infringed on the news media in several high-profile leak investigations. Participants said he told them officials would revise guidelines for issuing subpoenas to obtain reporters’ phone records.
The 90-minute meeting was attended by a small group of journalists after several news organizations objected to the Justice Department’s insistence that it be held off the record. The participants, however, reached an agreement with the Justice Department under which they could describe what occurred during the meeting in general terms. The Justice Department is expected to meet with other news organizations and media lawyers in coming days.
The problem remains that the Justice Department is acting as though the reporters need protection from them, not that they need to control themselves and consider the implications of their activities – Holder’s most notable suggestion has consistently been a SHIELD law that would allow writers and editors to defeat subpoenas that he issues under certain circumstances, rather than institutional guidelines that would, say, prevent him from issuing unnecessary subpoenas in the first place – and while the expressions of concerns are nice, they don’t really give James Rosen back the security of being able to email his parents funny photos of cats without fear their going into his permanent record.
Plus, there’s still this thing about the Washington Post reporting what the Justice Department told them to report. Doesn’t it strike anyone in this group as odd that the DOJ would hold a meeting to talk about how awesome freedom of the press is, deny them the ability to put it on the record, and then go one step further and tell them what to print? It’s like they’re just trolling the entire press corps now, hoping they’ll be too enamored with the attention to notice.