CIA had told AP that security concerns about its story were 'no longer an issue'

The Associated Press held its story about a foiled underwear bombing for five days, Carol D. Leonnig and Julie Tate report in The Washington Post. But on Monday, May 7, "CIA officials reported that the national security concerns were 'no longer an issue,'" they write. Then the government began jostling with AP over who would get to break the story.

When the journalists rejected a plea to hold off longer, the CIA then offered a compromise. Would they wait a day if AP could have the story exclusively for an hour, with no government officials confirming it for that time?

Then an administration official called, saying, "AP could have the story exclusively for five minutes before the White House made its own announcement. AP then rejected the request to postpone publication any longer."

"The only deal was to hold the story until any security risk was resolved,” AP spokesperson Erin Madigan White tells Leonnig and Tate.

Media Matters earned a fair amount of ridicule Wednesday for a set of talking points posted on the website of its Message Matters project. The site offered tips for anyone who wanted to defend the Justice Department for seizing AP's phone records in an investigation of the leak that led to that story.

"If the press compromised active counter-terror operations for a story that only tipped off the terrorists, that sounds like it should be investigated," went one.

Media Matters sent Erik Wemple a statement saying it "was not involved with the production of the document focusing on the DOJs investigation." Message Matters "posts, through a different editorial process and to a different website, a wide range of potential messaging products for progressive talkers to win public debates with conservatives."

We would not say it the way we said it by itself, if we had it to do over again,” Media Matters honcho David Brock told BuzzFeed's Ben Smith. He stressed the separateness of the organizations and said the messaging group would soon "become its own freestanding organization." The points were distributed to "people on television who are talking to a broad audience — they’re not talking specifically to progressives."

But with those points mocked, what's a time-pressed TV talker to do? Why, peruse a crop of opinion pieces either defending the administration's action or dissing AP/the press in general.

The information that led to AP's scoop "cut to the heart of how America fights its enemies and the resources it uses to do so," former Obama administration figure Juliette Kayyem writes in The Boston Globe.

An agent of ours had infiltrated a terrorist cell. He is no longer in the inner circle. The leaker may be to blame. And the investigation that has everyone up in arms was completely justified.

Debate the scope of the search? Fine. But let’s not doubt the need for the search itself.

The press' outrage "strikes me as sanctimonious and smug," David A. Kaplan writes in Fortune.

From the government's perspective, lawlessness is a bad thing, and disclosure of secrets can endanger security. When the Justice Department, legally (so far as we know), wants to obtain evidence to prove law-breaking, it seems to me the press is entitled to no special protection.

National Review Editor Rich Lowry writes in Politico that the press' outrage "is another reminder, if we needed one, that what the press cares about most is itself." Among his evidence: How The New York Times played stories about the IRS in its printed editions.

The New York Times sniffed at the Internal Revenue Service scandal. It didn’t even put the initial story on the front page. When it did eventually front it, the headline was about how Republicans were trying to make hay of the scandal. Editorially, it issued a relatively tepid tsk-tsk. But the AP subpoena earned the White House a firm rebuke in an editorial titled “Spying on the Associated Press”: The administration, the editorial says, has “a chilling zeal for investigating leaks” and is trying “to frighten off whistleblowers.”

The New York Post picks up that theme in an editorial dinging AP for not investigating the IRS allegations in 2012. OK, it ran three stories, the Post acknowledges. But only one was "substantive," and, OK, "it did detail complaints from several conservative leaders about an IRS 'witch hunt.'”

But it also included a sentence saying accusations of partisanship, whether liberal or conservative, are “usually without merit” — citing unnamed “tax experts.” Of the two experts named, one was a former IRS official who suggested the IRS was just doing its job, while the other attributed delays to the volume of applications.

"You be the judge," the Post editorial concludes. In a different context, that one sentence would seem to neatly encapsulate the Post's editorial philosophy lately.


  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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