AP CEO: DOJ subpoena has “chilling effect” on American journalists & news sources
The Justice Department’s secret subpoena of Associated Press phone records has a “chilling effect” on reporters and their news sources, who fear prosecution for disclosing confidential information, according to AP CEO Gary Pruitt.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Pruitt said the DOJ’s “overreaching” sweep of records for 21 phone lines – including work and personal lines of AP reporters and switchboards of their New York and Washington D.C. offices – has intimidated some long-time news sources, who have “become nervous and anxious”, from talking to AP reporters even on non-national security matters.
“In some cases, government employees we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone and some are reluctant to meet in person,” said Pruitt. “And I can tell you this chilling effect is not just at AP; it’s happening at other news organizations as well. Journalists from other new organizations have personally told me it has intimidated sources from speaking to them.”
Pruitt stressed that it is important for journalists to protect the anonymity of non-official news sources, who often provide information that are sometimes critical but are necessary to hold the government accountable.
“Non-official news sources are critical to the press and critical to holding the government accountable. Otherwise, you’re just going to hear from the official sources and the public will only know what the government want them to know,” Pruitt explained. “Our issue is freedom of the press and the rights instilled in the First Amendment that were created to hold government accountable.”
Pruitt said the seizure of thousands of AP phone records – many of which were unrelated to the Justice Department’s investigation into the leak of a CIA-thwarted plot by Al Qaeda to smuggle sophisticated bombs aboard U.S. airliners on the first year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing – compromises journalists’ ability to protect the identities of their confidential sources and, therefore, hinders the ability of the press to gather information in the public interest.
“If reporters’ phone records are now open territory for the government to secretly monitor, then news sources will be intimidated from talking to reporters,” he said. “Now, the government may love this. I suspect they do. But beware the government that loves secrecy too much.”
As a result of the Justice Department’s actions, Pruitt indicated that there are fewer non-officials sources who are now willing to provide information to AP reporters. The “chilling effect” has prompted some journalists to meet their sources in person instead of communicating through email or phone, although Pruitt pointed out that the Justice Department could “follow reporters and what they’re doing on foot as well.”
“We will do our best to make sure we can protect our sources and still get the stories by every means possible,” said Pruitt.
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- C-Span.org: Video of AP CEO Gary Pruitt’s speech at the National Press Club on June 19, 2013