Department of Justice

Journalists hit with tear gas, other stuff, while covering Ferguson decision

Good morning. Here are nine media stories.

  1. How news outlets covered Ferguson decision

    The news media's demand for information was the "most significant challenge encountered in this investigation," St. Louis County prosecution Robert P. McCulloch said Monday while announcing a grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. (Poynter) | Al Tompkins dug into the grand jury report. (Storify) | Some highlights from the testimony. (AP) | I watched CNN last night and saw reporters get hit with smoke and/or tear gas (St. Louis County Police said they used both, smoke first). | CNN's Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo got hit by tear gas. (Mediaite) | Protesters grabbed and broke a Fox News camera.

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FBI impersonated an AP reporter

Good morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. FBI impersonated AP reporter

    FBI director James B. Comey wrote a letter to The New York Times saying an undercover officer investigating some bomb threats "portrayed himself as an employee of The Associated Press, and asked if the suspect would be willing to review a draft article about the threats and attacks, to be sure that the anonymous suspect was portrayed fairly." (NYT) | Statement from AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll: "This latest revelation of how the FBI misappropriated the trusted name of The Associated Press doubles our concern and outrage, expressed earlier to Attorney General Eric Holder, about how the agency's unacceptable tactics undermine AP and the vital distinction between the government and the press." (AP) | Previously, we learned the FBI "created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect." (The Seattle Times) | Comey says the operation "was proper and appropriate under Justice Department and F.B.I.

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Police shouldn’t harass reporters, Obama says

Good news for media organizations: The police shouldn’t be able to bug you while you work, the president says.

Apparently exempt from that guidance: the federal government. In the past two years, the U.S. Department of Justice has secretly seized AP phone records and tried to force New York Times reporter James Risen to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, and the FBI has called a Fox News reporter “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in another leak case. Read more


Attorney general pledges he won’t jail reporters for ‘doing their job’

The New York Times | USA Today | Politico

In a meeting with journalists to discuss Justice Department media guidelines Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told participants, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail. As long as I’m attorney general, someone who is doing their job is not going to get prosecuted.”

The attorney general “was not discussing any particular case,” Charlie Savage reports a Justice Department official said, but Savage’s New York Times colleague James Risen is fighting an order to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him. In March, Risen said the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.”

The Justice Department said Holder’s remarks restated a “longtime assertion that, as long as he is in office, no journalist will be prosecuted or go to prison for performing ordinary news-gathering activities,” Kevin Johnson reports in USA Today. Read more


What the DOJ’s new guidelines mean for journalists

The U.S. Department of Justice’s new revised guidelines tightening government access to journalists’ records officially take effect this week. Yet the protections are not absolute, leaving some important exceptions in the hands of the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder to circumvent the safeguards, particularly when it comes to classified information deemed potentially harmful.

The guidelines specifically aim to shield journalists from “certain law enforcement tools,” the department noted, including subpoenas, court orders and search warrants that “might unreasonably impair ordinary newsgathering activities.” Read more

The sign that serves as the backdrop for press briefings at the Department of Justice is seen before a press conference Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2006 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

DOJ releases new rules about obtaining media orgs’ records

The New York Times | Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Justice Friday released new rules for how it will try to obtain records from journalists in the future. They “create a presumption that prosecutors generally will provide advance notice to the news media when seeking to obtain their communications records,” Charlie Savage reports.

The Justice Department didn’t win rave reviews last May, when news broke it had seized AP phone records without notifying the organization. Read more

1 Comment

James Risen asks Supreme Court to hear his case

The New York Times | Politico | The Washington Post

In a petition filed Monday, New York Times reporter James Risen asked the United States Supreme Court to hear his case, in which he asks not to be compelled to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him.

An appeals court declined to hear Risen’s case in October.

“This case has been transformed into a potential constitutional showdown over the First Amendment and the role of the press in the United States because of the Obama Administration’s aggressive use of the powers of the government to try to rein in independent national security reporting,” Risen told Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. Read more


DOJ agreement should clear way for Gannett-Belo deal, companies say

Gannett | Department of Justice | The New York Times

Gannett Co. and Belo Corp. announced Monday that they have reached an agreement with the Department of Justice that should clear the way for Gannett to purchase Belo as announced in June.

The $1.5 billion sale and assumption of $715 million in Belo debt would expand Gannett’s TV holdings from 23 to 43 stations, the media companies said last summer.

The proposed agreement emerged at the same time as the filing of a civil antitrust lawsuit Monday in the District of Columbia’s U.S. District Court to block Gannett’s acquisition of Belo. The agreement — which would resolve the concerns alleged in the lawsuit — would require Gannett and third-party operator Sander Media LLC to divest themselves of Belo-owned KMOV-TV. Read more


Former FBI agent pleads guilty to helping AP, possessing child porn

Indianapolis Star | The Huffington Post

Donald John Sachtleben has signed plea agreements in two cases: One for possessing child pornography and another in which he’s accused of giving information about a terror plot to “a reporter from a national news organization.” Sachtleben, a bomb technician who worked at the FBI as a contractor after he retired in 2008, passed on the information to a reporter nine days before feds filed the child porn charges, Jill Disis reports.

Last May, the government developed an intense interest in the Associated Press’ sources for a story that detailed how the CIA stopped a bomb plot in Yemen. It secretly obtained phone records from AP reporters and editors, an action that started a national conversation about how the government should interact with journalists who receive leaked information. Read more


DOJ asks for more information about Gannett-Belo deal


Gannett and Belo “received requests yesterday for additional information and documents” from the Department of Justice, Gannett says in a press release. Gannett announced in June it would buy Belo for $1.5 billion, nearly doubling the number of TV stations it owns.

This so-called “Second Request” is a “standard part of the DOJ review process,” Gannett says, adding that it still expects to close the deal by the end of 2013.

Some petitioners filed requests with the FCC opposing the deal; the Department of Justice recently filed a motion to block a proposed merger between American Airlines and US Airways. Read more


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