AP President Gary Pruitt points out that the Department of Justice process to obtain his reporters’ phone records was very unusual and has already had a chilling effect on newsgathering.
“Their rules require them to come to us first,” Pruitt said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” But instead of trying to work with the AP, the Justice Department claimed an exception that informing the news organization would have posed a substantial threat to their investigation. The Justice Department sought phone records for 21 AP phone lines that were used by approximately 100 journalists over the course of two months, he said.
“We can’t understand why,” Pruitt said, since the records came from an outside business and couldn’t have been tampered with.
Pruitt said that the message being sent is that if officials talk to the press they are going to be sought out and monitored by the government.
“It will hurt journalism,” Pruitt said. “We are already seeing some impact.”
It’s not so much that the government is trying to plug leaks, which is a legitimate activity when national security is at stake. But the way it has been done in the past is exactly the opposite of the way the Obama administration approached the problem. Instead of investigating reporters, they should be investigating their own people to see where the leak occurred. If reporters must be investigated, cooperation is usually sought from the media outlets whose employees are being investigated. Pruitt is understandably mystified at the way the Justice Department went about trying to plug the leak.
“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel,” said Mark Twain. For the Obama administration, who may rue the day they pulled this stunt, even in the digital age Mr. Twain’s advice is well considered.