Gary Pruitt, the Associated Press’ president and CEO, has had about enough of the government. After the Justice Department secretly obtained two months worth of phone records from AP reporters and editors, Pruitt now says that government sources are scared to talk to reporters. “The government may love this,” Pruitt added, during a speech at the National Press Club. “I suspect that they do, but beware the government that loves secrecy too much.”
In an effort to nudge the government toward a less creepy lifestyle, Pruitt also announced five measures that could ensure freedom of the press. Here’s a brief summary of his ideas: 1) The press should be able to respond to any request of information before its taken 2) There should be judicial oversight when anything is requested 3) The DOJ’s guidelines need updated 4) A federal shield law that protects journalists should be implemented and 5) A formal rule should be made of the guideline that the DOJ will not prosecute any journalist for being a journalist.
It’s a nice list. Now if only the government would heed Pruitt’s advice.
See below for Pruitt’s full statements on the measures.
- First: We want the Department of Justice to recognize the right of the press to advance notice and a chance to be heard before its records are taken by the government. This would have given AP the chance to point out the many failings of the subpoena. We believe notice was required under existing regulations; if the DOJ sees it differently, then regulations must be strengthened to remove any doubt.
- Second: We want judicial oversight. We need to ensure that proper checks and balances are maintained. In the AP phone records case, the Justice Department determined, on its own, that advance notice could be skipped, with no checks from any other branch of government. Denying constitutional rights by executive fiat is not how this government should work.
- Third: We want the DOJ guidelines updated to bring them into the 21st century. The guidelines were created before the Internet era. They didn’t foresee emails or text. The guidelines need to ensure that the protections afforded journalists from the forced disclosure of information encompass all forms of communication.
- Fourth: We want a federal shield law enacted with teeth in it that will protect reporters from such unilateral and secret government action.
- Fifth: We want the Department to formally institutionalize what Attorney General Holder has said: that the Justice Department will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job. The Department should not criminalize — or threaten to criminalize — journalists for doing their jobs, such as by calling them co-conspirators under the Espionage Act, as they did Fox reporter James Rosen. This needs to be part of an established directive, not only limited to the current administration.