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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