How Holder Would Have Done Things Differently

The attorney general told journalists of color how he would have conducted the DOJ's media leak investigations in hindsight.

Eric Holder at the Department of Justice, May 29, 2013 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Eric Holder at the Department of Justice, May 29, 2013 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told visiting journalists of color Monday that if the Justice Department had to conduct its recent leak investigations over again, it would give news organizations notice “so as not to give the impression that journalists were feeling criminalized and the target of the investigation,” according to Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Balta attended the meeting with Holder and his aides along with Anna Lopez Buck, executive director of NAHJ, and Walt Swanston, interim executive director of Unity: Journalists for Diversity.

The hour-long meeting at the Justice Department took place without the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, all of which declined an invitation because it was billed as off the record.

On social media, some of these groups’ members derided the meeting as a publicity stunt or “photo op” intended to help Holder “cover his ass” in light of the criticism he received from members of the media. (A Justice Department spokeswoman said no photos had been taken.)

However, Balta told Journal-isms by telephone after the meeting, Holder quickly agreed that the session could be on the record. “It was a very positive, constructive meeting,” Balta said.

“He felt the perception was that his team was going after the reporters when he was really going after the leakers, and he did not want to give the impression that his office feels journalists were a target.”

Balta said that he suggested that in the name of inclusion, any Justice Department materials provided the news media be available in Spanish for Spanish-language media, and that Holder “was open to that,” Balta said. 

Moreover, the NAHJ president invited Holder to NAHJ’s summer convention, adding that he would create a means for NAHJ members to make comments directly to the Justice Department as it reviews its guidelines for leak investigations. The NAHJ convention will be part of the annual Excellence in Journalism Conference Aug. 24-26 in Anaheim, Calif., which is staged with the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Journalists, media organizations and others were alarmed when the Associated Press disclosed on May 13 that the Justice Department had seized records for 20 separate phone lines over a two-month period as part of a leak investigation.

Also at issue is the Justice Department’s monitoring of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter based in Washington. Rosen allegedly spoke to Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department contractor, for a story about North Korea’s nuclear program.

The Justice Department charged Kim with violating the Espionage Act for his contact with Rosen, whose reporting disclosed that the United States had a source in the Korean leadership. In order to justify its search warrants for Rosen’s private correspondence, the Justice Department labeled Rosen a “co-conspirator” with Kim because he made an arrangement with him about how to get him information, the Washington Post reported.

However, as PBS’ Gwen Ifill noted on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, no journalist has been prosecuted.

On May 23, President Obama ordered a review of the Justice Department’s procedures for legal investigations involving reporters, acknowledging that he was “troubled” that multiple inquiries into national security leaks could chill investigative reporting, as Mark Landler reported then for the New York Times.

Later that day, the Justice Department announced that “As part of that review, the Attorney General will consult a diverse and representative group of media organizations. . . .”

Holder’s message on Monday appeared to track with what he told representatives of news organizations at meetings last week, when a number of news outlets similarly boycotted in protest of the off-the-record stipulation.

Charlie Savage wrote for the New York Times after the first meetingThursday:

Mr. Holder is also considering raising the standard that must be met before any subpoena or warrant related to a reporter would be approved.”

Savage quoted an unnamed adviser familiar with the deliberations as saying the early discussions “had focused on whether to tighten the rule about giving advance notice to news organizations before their records are subpoenaed, allowing them to negotiate over its scope or challenge it in court.

“The current rule for calling log subpoenas says that prior notice and negotiations ‘shall be pursued in all cases’ where a high-level official ‘determines that such negotiations would not pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.’ It is ambiguous whether that means prior notification is the general presumption or the exception.

“There are signs that the government has been lately interpreting the rule to avoid notifying journalists, including subpoenas for call logs of The A.P. and Fox News reporters that came to light this month,” Savage wrote. “For example, the investigation into an The A.P. article about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen was public knowledge, and the records were held by a phone company, so it is not clear how advance notice to The A.P. could have posed a threat. . . .”

Holder told Monday’s guests that he had found the three days of sessions with the news media, which are to continue, very useful in educating him about how news is gathered.

Balta said that it was “definitely well worth taking the invitation. I certainly understand and respect” the organizations that declined, but that he believed, “It’s important for us to be at the table if we want to effect positive change.”

Peter BakerCharlie Savage and Jonathan Weisman, New York Times: Seeking a Fresh Start, Holder Finds a Fresh Set of Troubles

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post: Targeting Eric Holder

Editorial, Los Angeles Times: Shielding journalists, by law 

Chris Good, ABC News: Attorney General Eric Holder Tells Media Outlets Leak Guidelines Will Change (May 31)

Eugene Kane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Yes, Barack Obama has made mistakes (May 31)

Bill Keller, New York Times: Secrets and Leaks

Alex Lazar and Jordy Yager, the Hill: AP, Fox News not isolated First Amendment controversies for DOJ

Ruben Navarrette Jr., Washington Post Writers Group: Criminalizing journalism (May 29)

Brendan Nyhan, Columbia Journalism Review: No, the scandals aren’t dragging down Obama’s ratings (yet) 

Gail Shister, TVNewser: As Journalists Become the Story, Will the Rules Change?

Jeff Winbush blog: What If Eric Holder Held A Photo Op and Nobody Came?

Soul of the South Network to Cover Zimmerman Trial

The new Soul of the South television network, debuted on Memorial Day, plans daily coverage of the trial of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman for second-degree-murder in the shooting of African American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012.

Tom Jacobs, national news director of the African American-oriented network, said the coverage will begin on June 17, proceeding from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central time. It will be anchored by Vickie Newton, a fixture in St. Louis for more than a decade when she left KMOV-TV last year to be closer to family in Arkansas. Soul of the South is headquartered in Little Rock.

Others on the news team are Willy Walker, national managing editor; Ray Metoyer, national planning director/coordinator; and Roy Hobbs, anchor. All are veterans, with more than 200 years’ experience among them, Jacobs said.

Jacobs spoke on a conference call Monday with the other team members and offered the Zimmerman trial as an example of how the network would be different from others. “I don’t know that the case has been covered as much as commented on,” Jacobs said, adding that the network would bring a perspective without becoming advocates.

“There are so many stories of people who are making a difference,” Metoyer added. “There are stories that are not being told that need to be told.” Speaking of existing programming, Newton said, “The African American narrative is not just negative, yet that’s what we’ve come to expect. What I’ve discovered is that African Americans appreciate good storytelling. All of that can be found at Soul of the South.”

Jacobs said the network would include other people of color when appropriate. “We are primarily African American, but I don’t want to ignore issues affecting Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans. If there are stories that intersect with what we are doing, we’ll certainly report on that.”

The network is still hiring journalists; Jacobs said job-hunters should check its website. The daily newscast, which is to air at 7 p.m. Central time, begins in mid-July. The Washington-based “Capital Eye” show, on political issues, is scheduled to start about Labor Day and “Morning Call,” a two-hour morning show that will at first originate in Little Rock, then move to Washington, starts in mid-September. Newton is to be one of its co-anchors.

Rene Stutzman, Orlando Sentinel: George Zimmerman trial death will bring media village, public-assembly area 

Desiree Stennett, Orlando Sentinel: Trayvon Martin’s parents expect ‘rough road’ at murder trial 

Public Editor Calls Out N.Y. Times on Poverty Coverage

Newspaper people make decisions about what to cover and what to emphasize every day,” Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, wrote for Sunday’s print edition. “They have finite resources — only so much space in the paper, only so many reporters — and they have to choose. In this context, one question I’ve been thinking about for several months is this: How well does The Times cover those who live in poverty and the news that affects them?

Sullivan continued, “Based on reading, interviewing and simply paying more attention, I’ve made some observations.

“First, when The Times does write about poverty — whether in a special series or a long feature article — it usually does so with depth and intelligence. The amount and intensity of the coverage, however, may not be in proportion to the size of the problem. One in six Americans live in poverty, and it’s worse for children: one in five. In New York City, it is commonplace to see men and women sleeping on the street. Among the city’s 8 million residents, 1.5 million don’t have enough to eat; a third of those are children.

“Occasional coverage — no matter how excellent — doesn’t get the job done.

“The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in 52 major mainstream news outlets, including The Times, combined coverage of poverty amounted to far less than 1 percent of all front-page articles. The Times may do better than some, but given New York City’s high poverty rate and The Times’s special responsibility as the nation’s dominant paper, with the most plentiful resources, there should be more. . . .”

D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center: Americans’ Views about Poverty and Economic Well-Being (Sept. 12, 2012)