The day in government snooping

Journalists were already rattled by the Department of Justice's secret seizure of Associated Press phone records when Ann Marimow's disturbing scoop in The Washington Post about the U.S. Department of Justice investigating Fox News reporter James Rosen hit this weekend.

• The government's search warrant for Rosen's email account says the reporter was "an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator," Ryan Lizza notes. "[I]t is unprecedented for the government, in an official court document, to accuse a reporter of breaking the law for conducting the routine business of reporting on government secrets."

• "[T]his is the same argument the Justice Department has been using in their attempt to indict WikiLeaks and Julian Assange," Trevor Timm writes. It also has echoes in the Pentagon Papers case, he writes.

• The subpoena for AP's phone records cast a wider net than initially reported, Michael Isikoff reports:

David Schulz, the chief lawyer for the AP, said the subpoenas also covered the records for 21 phone lines in five AP office lines -- including one for a dead phone line at office in Washington that had been shut down six years ago. The phone lines at four other offices – where 100 reporters worked — were also covered by the subpoenas, Schulz said.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole had told AP the subpoenas "were limited in both time and scope."

• "The level of outrage here is not warranted," former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg told the Los Angeles Times' David G. Savage. "These are not taped conversations."

The administration has claimed a broad power to prosecute leakers under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era measure that targeted spies and those who aid the enemy. And it has been willing to bypass the protections for journalists that have been followed for decades.

• "If lives or truly sensitive material are at stake, the news media have a responsibility to seriously consider the government's appeal to delay or withhold a story," John Diaz wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle. "But people in power also have a natural tendency to conflate national security and political security."

• New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti tells The Washington Post's Greg Sargent the Obama administration's vigorous approach to quelling leaks has "got people on both sides — the reporter and source side — pretty concerned."

“There has been in national security reporting for decades a sense that reporters can talk to government officials to get information, and that it is very important to have information in the public realm from reporters about how government works,” Mazzetti said.

• AP CEO Gary Pruitt Sunday called the seizure "unconstitutional."

"It's too early to know if we'll take legal action but I can tell you we are positively displeased and we do feel that our constitutional rights have been violated," Pruitt said.

• Fox News didn't comment for Marimow's story, and The Washington Post's Erik Wemple quotes Fox News reporter Shannon Bream saying, "As far as I know, it was a surprise to everyone when we read the details in the Washington Post about just how extensive and in-depth this had been." The New York Times reported in June 2011 that U.S. State Department arms expert Stephen J. Kim had been charged with giving "information to a Fox News reporter." Wemple:

Who knows why Fox News didn’t know about key developments in a case involving their own reporter. But there’s another question here: Why didn’t Fox News pounce on the story after it realized that the Washington Post was nosing into things?

Here's Fox's statement.

• After the Justice seizure, AP "got a taste of what many college journalists face from university administrators daily — contempt of the law," Devin Karambelas and David Schick write in USA Today. They profile the Student Press Law Center, which represents student papers frequently in First Amendment cases. "At least when (the government) is caught red-handed, the White House is willing to profess a love of the media," SPLC attorney Adam Goldstein tells the reporters. "College administrators have no interest in that."

  • 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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