Why the DOJ’s AP Action Threatens Press Freedom

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Photo: Dale Robbins

Moyers & Company’s Gina Kim sat down with Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, to discuss the Justice Department’s decision to seize phone records for 20 Associated Press reporters and editors. The move marks the latest chapter in the recent crackdown on leakers and whistleblowers, and an unprecedented challenge to the freedom of the press protected by the First Amendment. Brian and Kim discuss the many reasons why Brian’s watchdog organization finds this latest example of government overreach problematic. “It’s as though there is no sense of discretion on when to prosecute what matters and when to make sure that we’re protecting our free speech,” Brian told Kim.

On this week’s episode of Moyers & Company, Brian and Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and OpenSecrets.org, talk with Bill about the importance of transparency to our democracy, and their efforts to document who’s giving money, who’s receiving it and what’s expected in return.


On why this subpoena matters

“So the first part of this that’s so disturbing is that they were only notified after the fact. So they just went in and took the information. And what they took was over 20 phone lines of the AP journalist’s records, not just in the office, but also at home. So the breadth of the subpoena is extraordinary. And that was one of the other elements that has historically been very important: to make sure that the subpoenas are very limited in scope. So this particular act is unique in how it’s such an invasion of the journalist’s capacity to do their work. But it’s part of a pattern that we’ve been seeing in this Justice Department — the Obama administration’s Justice Department — in being so aggressive in prosecuting people who have leaked classified information.”

On Eric Holder’s role and responsibility

“I understand that he may need to recuse himself from the particulars of this investigation. But the purpose of his position is to exhibit leadership. And if he isn’t willing to say, ‘This is a line we must not cross’ by taking himself out of the picture, I think he really abdicated his responsibility. They trampled the line between government and the free press in a way that I think is extremely damaging. And we need to see some recourse on President Obama’s behalf to do something about this.”

On the chilling effect of the government crackdown

“We’ve already seen a chilling effect on the part of people inside these agencies, who when they want to make disclosures are afraid to because of the prosecutions. You now have them realizing that even if there is a trusted journalist, that it isn’t even a case of whether they can trust the journalist, because they now know that the government might just take their information without even the journalist having the capacity to fight back. So we are having a tremendous chilling effect on both sides of our journalistic table, where you have both the journalists and the people who are their sources being essentially powerless to the power of the national security establishment and the justice department. […]There is no question, especially in the national security arena that there has been a diminishing number of people who feel comfortable coming forward, even though there’s a vast increase in the number of people who are being given security clearances and access to this information.”

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  • Anonymous

    I think of all the so-called scandals this week ,the press seems to be most upset about the subpoenaing of the associated press phone records. Most progressives are big supporters of the constitutionally guaranties of freedom of the press. I think the fact that the fourth estate is the only corporate or individual entity mentioned in our constitution implies that it’s constitutional protection is contingent on informing “we the people” of government and corporate excesses. In the last few decades consolidation of the media and ending the fairness doctrine is most responsible for misinforming the people then government or corporate interest. When governments deceives the public the media has become the tool of choice. If a government wants to kill people in a war of choice you have editorial writers in the New York Times to place lies and miss information about WMD in their articles. The outing of a CIA agent Valerie Plame would not have been possible without the cooperation of so-called fourth estate defenders of the peoples right to know. The most resent associated press phone records is about high treason and AP reporting may have led to the death of a high valued double agent in the Al Qaeda organization. The press has ignored and help promote the dummying down of the American people and have allowed a particular party to bring this nation to it’s knees because in large part racial hatred. It is absolutely incredible, when polled, what lies the American people have been allowed to believe with complicity of the fourth estate. If the media wants the people to be as angry and outraged as they are about what happened with their constitutional protections, they need to start being the watch dogs for the people instead of prostitutes for the “Citizens United” they are supposedly protecting us from

  • Fritzie Borgwardt

    It sounds to me like Holder subpoenaed the records, which anyone can do. It appears he was trying to identify who leaked information that outed a CIA operative who would otherwise have had some good shelf-life left in the war on terror. Which makes me wonder, why couldn’t Holder have done that from within?

    If the administration had been up front with news organizations from the beginning about what was going on and what could and could not be released, this may have been a non-controversy. It was handled poorly, probably because it’s hard to tell in this administration who is and who is not the enemy. But bravo for the Administration’s push for the re-introduction of a press shield law! Now they can fight the barriers to getting their own information from within.

    As for the AP, did they know which part of the information should have been protected? Was there really a public interest motive for leaking this unedited information a day earlier than was originally planned? Was there a public interest in outing the operative, who can no longer be used to fight terror?

    In my view, the media also falls down on the job, by giving the general public just enough information to help others divide and conquer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/donald.drinkard.9 Donald Drinkard

    So I am gathering from what I have read the last few days, that Bill Moyers believes it is OK to trample on 2nd amendment rights, but when it comes to the 1st amendment, its a whole different story. The Bill of rights, the first ten amendments became part of the constitution simultaneously. Those who worked for their passage took them all seriously.

  • Anonymous

    The press is not free, and should not be free, to broadcast information that threatens the safety of the nation, its citizens, or people acting legally in its service; particularly information that has been classified as secret. According to the Attorney General Of The United States, they have done so in the A.P. case. As we cannot stop the broadcasts using prior restraint against the news sources, we must find those people who have been given access to classified data by virtue of their sworn oath to protect it, and have distributed that data to news broadcasters; newspapers and others. No person has the legal right to distribute classified material to the press, or any other entity, that does not have a clearance to have it, and a need to know. The effort to find the source(s) that fed classified material to unauthorized recipients who broadcast it to the world inconvenienced some people who make their money by writing and speaking. To bad. I don’t give a damn.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.crofoot Ken Crofoot

    It is becoming obvious why Mrs. Clinton resigned and is distancing herself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1529311527 Bob McKay

    Did you feel the same way about the New York Slime publishing the locations of overseas US POW camps for captured terrorists? Did you think that did not endanger the troops who were responsible for keeping security in those facilities?

  • Riley Whetstone

    I’m tired of hearing anything about the problems in the world, I know the answer, its has been the corp. mind of people that can not care about others!!!!

  • Riley Whetstone

    They are not our troops did not take part, It was the local They are paid to watch terrorists or torch-er……..

  • Anonymous

    If the data they published was classified, the people that released it should be found and prosecuted. The point I’m making is that people entrusted with classified information should meet their obligation to protect the classified information to which they have access. There are legitimate questions about what should be classified, and for what purpose, but those matters should not be adjudicated by just anyone who feels like it.

  • Anonymous

    Say what?

  • Guillermo

    Eric Holder: Idiot Zen Master
    by Jon Rappoport

    “We may be seeing the greatest bureaucratic ploy in the history of the democracy.

    Imagine a million bureaucrats like him. Each one defers to the other, who in turn expresses the same across-the-board Zero. At the end of it, the apparatus spits out a blank piece of paper and everybody goes home.

    Yes, government is wonderful. It’s cosmically zen. It’s what we all want.

    Life without life.

    To top it off, Obama, at his press conference yesterday, said he has full confidence in Holder. Meaning: Obama is sure Holder will remain a blank slate.”

    “I have full confidence that the man who is running the Department of Justice isn’t running it. He’s staring at the wall. That’s what I want him to do.”


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ray-Worthen/100000422205111 Ray Worthen

    Would you make the same claim for finding who leaked the identity of Valery Plame? or for finding and punishing “Deep Throat”.

  • Anonymous

    Someone, in addition to the V.P.’s Chief Of Staff, Mr. Libby, should have paid for revealing the status of Ms. Plame. That might have required impeachment of Mr. Cheney, an unlikely action, but deserved.

    So far as I know, Deep Throat did not reveal any classified information. He gave guidance to reporters who uncovered a crime and violated no law I’m aware of.

    Again, my point regards those who break their oath to preserve classified information, not reporters that receive it. In the A.P. case, the efforts of the DOJ are directed a the person who released the information illegally.

  • Fritzie@realtour.tv

    When it comes to the release of information, It’s the public interest that counts. And if something is classified, it had better be in the public interest to keep it under wraps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-Popkess/1348496615 Craig Popkess

    Up until now, we preferred Safety over Freedom; thus the Patriot Act and it’s frequent renewals. As a nation (Not a Media Industry) we need to decide what we are willing to give up to “Feel” safe. Our Representatives have made that choice in our behalf so far, and what occurred was COMPLETELY LEGAL UNDER THE LAW. If you don’t like it, elect people to office who feel differently.

  • scribbles

    So, you don’t really understand the difference between a right and a law.