The U.S. government's secret seizure of AP phone records has
thrown a scare into some of the iconic news outlet's sources, as well as those
of other journalists. That is according to AP president Gary Pruitt, who
provided an update on the issue at a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday,
according to a copy of the prepared text obtained by B&C.
He also outlined five things AP wants the government to do
to prevent a repeat of what he said was an overbroad sweep that violated both
the First Amendment and DOJ's own subpoena rules.
Pruitt said that after checking with reporters to get a
sense of the impact six weeks into the revelations: "What I heard from our
journalists should alarm everyone in this room."
Some government officials have been "so fearful of
talking to AP they wouldn't even confirm a fact that had already been reported
by numerous other media," he said.
Pruitt said the chill is being felt beyond AP.
"Journalists from other news organizations have personally told me that it
has intimidated both official and nonofficial sources from speaking to them as
"Had the DOJ come to us in advance, we could have
helped them narrow the scope of the subpoena. If AP and the DOJ did not agree,
then a court could decide which was right. There was never that opportunity.
Instead, the DOJ acted as judge, jury and executioner -- in secret," he
said, and rather than a "surgical strike," the records collection was
"an overbroad and sloppy fishing expedition into a wide spectrum of AP
news journalists -- most of whom had little or nothing to do with the issues in
question. It violated the protective zone that the First Amendment provides
journalists in the United States," Pruitt said.
DOJ has assured AP that the records have been "walled
off" and will not be used for anything but the leak investigation. Pruitt
said he appreciated that assurance, but it did not excuse DOJ's actions.
Attorney General Eric Holder has been charged by
the president with making recommendations on the relationship between
government leak investigations and the press by July 12. Pruitt has five of his
own: 1) DOJ should recognize the right of the press to advance notice and a
chance to weigh in before its records are taken; 2) judicial oversight; 3)
update DOJ guidelines that were created before the Internet; 4) a federal
shield law "with teeth in it"; and 5) DOJ must formally acknowledge
that it will not prosecute any reporter for doing their job. "The
Department should not criminalize -- or threaten to criminalize -- journalists
for doing their jobs, such as by calling them coconspirators under the
Espionage Act, as they did Fox reporter James Rosen."