New Rules: No Criminalizing Journalists

The Justice Department's new guidelines will prevent the FBI from portraying reporters as co-conspirators.

Attorney General Eric Holder (Mark Wilson/ Getty Images)
Attorney General Eric Holder (Mark Wilson/ Getty Images)

Journalists reacted with cautious approval Friday to an announcement by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that he was revising Justice Department procedures that enraged reporters this year as the department pursued leak investigations.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the only leader of a journalist-of-color organization to agree to meet with Holder as the attorney general sought feedback from the Fourth Estate before revising the guidelines.

“I’m happy to see that a lot of what it speaks to is not criminalizing journalists for doing their jobs. What we need to wait and see is how it will be enforced.”

Balta, his executive director, Anna Lopez Buck, and Walt Swanston, interim executive director of Unity: Journalists for Diversity, attended a June 3 meeting with Holder. Other journalist of color groups declined, citing the stated off-the-record ground rules. Those rules were lifted once the meeting began.

“In a six-page report, Mr. Holder outlined changes to the Justice Department’s investigative guidelines that would prevent the Federal Bureau of Investigation from portraying a reporter as a co-conspirator in a criminal leak as a way to get around a legal bar on secret search warrants for reporting materials,” Charlie Savage reported for the New York Times.

“The revisions would also make it harder — though not impossible — for prosecutors to obtain a journalist’s calling records from telephone companies without giving news organizations advance notice. Notifying news organizations in advance would give them a chance to contest the request in court.”

Savage continued, “Investigators’ targeting of the communications records of Associated Press and Fox News reporters in separate leak investigations came to light in May, setting off a furor, both among journalists and in Congress, about the administration’s increasingly aggressive record on leak investigations.”

Two months ago, President Obama “gave Mr. Holder a July 12 deadline to review the rules and make recommendations. Mr. Holder held a series of meetings with newsroom leaders and lawyers for media companies, along with lawmakers and First Amendment scholars, in May and June, and briefed Mr. Obama about the changes at the White House on Friday morning.

“Several of them directly addressed controversies from the earlier disclosures. For example, a 2010 affidavit that came to light in May sought a warrant for e-mails from the Google account of James Rosen of Fox News in which he corresponded with a State Department analyst who was suspected of leaking classified information. . . .”

Michael Clemente, Fox News’ executive vice president of news, said in a statement, “The guidelines appear to be welcome steps. That said, the Attorney General, Justice Department officials and the FBI should also take full responsibility for the illegal actions taken against Fox News and James Rosen,” Fox News reported. No journalist was prosecuted, however.

The Associated Press said it was “gratified that the Department of Justice took our concerns seriously. The description of the new guidelines released today indicates they will result in meaningful, additional protection for journalists. We’ll obviously be reviewing them more closely when the actual language of the guidelines is released, but we are heartened by this step.”

Journalists, media organizations and others expressed alarm when the AP disclosed on May 13 that the Justice Department had seized records for 20 separate phone lines, all assigned to AP and its journalists, over a two-month period as part of a leak investigation.

Investigators did not notify the AP to request the phone records before obtaining them, a break with protocol in dealings between the government and the press,” Michael Calderone and Ryan J. Reilly noted for the Huffington Post. Gary Pruitt, chief executive of the AP, called the sweeping seizure ‘unconstitutional.’

“Under the new policy, news organizations will be given advance notice when investigators seek access to news-gathering materials, except in situations where the attorney general determines that ‘for compelling reasons, advance notice and negotiations would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.’

“That determination will be made after consulting members of a newly created News Media Review Committee, which will include senior DOJ officials who are not directly involved in the investigations and who have relevant expertise and experience in media matters.”

Balta said that he suggested at the June 3 meeting that any Justice Department materials provided the news media be available in Spanish for Spanish-language media.

Moreover, the NAHJ president invited Holder to NAHJ’s summer convention. That 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.

Asked about those two requests, a Justice Department spokeswoman told Journal-isms by email Friday, “We are considering President Balta’s recommendations regarding Spanish-language materials and look forward to working with NAHJ in the future.”

Balta, speaking by telephone from Miami, where NAHJ is conducting a regional conference with SPJ South Florida chapters this weekend, said the invitation for Holder to address the convention remains open.

Noted Thinkers Write About Race in Newspaper Series

The first story in the 11-part series is by Douglas A. Blackmon, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for his book, “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II,” later a PBS documentary. It begins:

“On July 31, 1903, a letter addressed to President Theodore Roosevelt arrived at the White House. It had been mailed from the town of Bainbridge, Georgia, the prosperous seat of a cotton county perched on the Florida state line.

“The sender was a barely literate African-American woman named Carrie Kinsey. With little punctuation and few capital letters, she penned the bare facts of the abduction of her 14-year-old brother, James Robinson, who a year earlier had been sold into involuntary servitude.

“Kinsey had already asked for help from the powerful White people in her world. She knew where her brother had been taken — a vast plantation not far away called Kinderlou. There, hundreds of Black men and boys were held in chains and forced to labor in the fields or in one of several factories owned by the McRee family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Georgia. No White official in this corner of the state would take an interest in the abduction and enslavement of a Black teenager.

“Confronted with a world of indifferent White people, Mrs. Kinsey did the only remaining thing she could think of. Newspapers across the country had recently reported on a speech by Roosevelt promising a ‘square deal’ for Black Americans. Mrs. Kinsey decided that her only remaining hope was to beg the president of the United States to help her brother.

” ‘Mr. Prassident,’ she wrote. ‘They wont let me have him…. He hase not don nothing for them to have him in chanes so I rite to you for your help.’ . . . “

Starting Friday, and for 10 consecutive Fridays afterward, newspapers that signed up were to receive free of charge articles examining the nation’s progress on race in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The pieces have such titles as “Emmett and Trayvon” by sociologist Elijah Anderson; “Deconstruction Reconstruction” by Nicholas Lemann, the New Yorker writer who just stepped down as dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; “Lincoln Died for Our Sins,” by Jelani Cobb, author, historian and director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut; and “A Second Emancipation” by Taylor Branch, the Martin Luther King Jr. biographer, and Haley Sweetland Edwards, an editor of the Washington Monthly.

Blackmon continued with his story. “Considered more than a century later, her letter courses with desperation and submerged outrage. Yet when received at the White House, it was slipped into a small rectangular folder and forwarded to the Department of Justice. There, it was tagged with a reference number, 12007, and filed away. Teddy Roosevelt never saw it. No action was taken. Her words lie still at the National Archives just outside Washington, D.C.

“As dumbfounding as the story told by the Carrie Kinsey letter is, far more remarkable is what surrounds that letter at the National Archives. In the same box that holds her grief-stricken missive are at least half a dozen other pieces of correspondence recounting other stories of kidnapping, perversion of the courts, or human trafficking — as horrifying as, or worse than, Carrie Kinsey’s tale. . . .”

Meanwhile, NPR on Friday announced an addition to the commemorations of the March on Washington. For its first public event at its new Washington headquarters, the network is hosting a free evening screening July 19 of the documentary “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords,” followed by a panel discussion and Q-and-A session with Terence Samuel, national political editor at the Washington Post; Julian Bond, politician, professor and writer; and Laura Murphy, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union. Those interested may register for tickets at

Station Airs Mock Asian Names of Pilots in Crash

Words cannot adequately express the outrage we, at the Asian American Journalists Association, feel over KTVU’s on-air blunder that made a mockery of the Asiana Airline tragedy and offended so many loyal viewers of the San Francisco Bay Area station,” Bobby Caina Calvan wrote Friday for AAJA.

“During KTVU’s noon newscast, the anchor said the station had learned the names of the four pilots in the cockpit of the ill-fated flight, which crashed in San Francisco on July 6 and killed three passengers,” Calvan, AAJA MediaWatch chair, and Paul Cheung, national AAJA president, wrote.

“Unfortunately those names were not only wrong, but grossly offensive. We won’t repeat the names, which caricatured Asian names.

“The station apologized later in the same newscast. Still, we fail to understand how a television news station with such a vaunted reputation could have fallen victim to such juvenile antics. . . . “

Other websites were not shy about listing the false names. “Yeah — we didn’t think ‘Sum Ting Wong,’ ‘Wi Tu Lo,’ ‘Ho Lee Fuk’ and ‘Bang Ding Ow’ were real names either,” Gabe Meline wrote for

The station said on its website “Prior to air, the names were confirmed by an NTSB official in the agency’s Washington, D.C. office. Despite that confirmation, KTVU realized the names that aired were not accurate and issued an apology later in the newscast.

AAJA said, “Earlier in the afternoon, the NTSB said it had no role in confirming the names. But when pressed by KTVU and others, the agency looked deeper into the matter. By evening, the NTSB issued an apology.

” ‘A summer intern acted outside the scope of his authority when he erroneously confirmed the names of the flight crew on the aircraft,’ the agency said in a statement.

“Appropriate actions will be taken to ensure that such a serious error is not repeated.”

The correct names of the pilots in the cockpit are Lee Gang-guk and Lee Jeong-min.

YouTube: KTVU Flight 214 Fail (Original)

MSNBC Briefly Shows Trayvon Martin’s Dead Body

“For a fleeting moment Thursday night, MSNBC aired what analysts covering George Zimmerman‘s second-degree murder trial have called the most graphic evidence in the case — a photo of Trayvon Martin‘s dead body lying in the grass,” Harold Maass wrote Friday for “This was not the image published by the Huffington Post and other news outlets showing the 17-year-old’s corpse covered by a yellow blanket. This image, captured before police covered him up, shows Martin in full — his face, his eyes and mouth open, his arms at his side.

“In the courtroom, prosecutors used the photo to illustrate their closing argument. Martin, they said, was just an unarmed kid returning from a convenience store with Skittles and a drink, and he would be alive today if Zimmerman, a white, Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, hadn’t stalked him because he was black. ‘His body speaks to you even in death,’ the prosecution told the jury. (Zimmerman maintains that Martin was the aggressor, and that he shot the boy in self-defense.)

“Some readers and viewers saw things differently. One commenter at Balloon Juice, for example, called the airing of the image ‘wrong and disgusting,’ and said MSNBC should apologize, even though it only aired the photo briefly in a live feed before quickly panning away.

“Was it wrong to show the victim’s corpse in such a high-profile, racially charged case? . . .”

Wayne Bennett, the Field Negro: New theories from the right about a trial going on down in Florida.

Jenée Desmond-Harris, the Root: Zimmerman Trial: Race Verdict Already In 

Jenée Desmond-Harris, the Root: Poll: Gawker Wrong to Show Trayvon’s Body?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, syndicated: Federal Prosecution of Zimmerman Compelling, But Unlikely 

Kevin Powell, Vibe: George Zimmerman Trial Is Exposing America’s Ugly Truths

Rebeldes,” Latino Rebels: The “White Hispanic” Label: Yes, People, Racism Is a Latino Thing, Too (March 29, 2012)

Noah Rothman, Mediaite: Predictions Of Riots If Zimmerman Acquitted Display Appalling Lack Of Faith In Black Community

Adam Weinstein, Gawker: This, Courtesy of MSNBC, Is Trayvon Martin’s Dead Body. Get Angry.

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: Geraldo: Jurors would have ‘shot and killed Trayvon Martin a lot sooner than George Zimmerman did’

Erik Wemple, Washington Post: George Zimmerman trial ‘riot’ fears: A rundown of coverage

Alex Weprin, TVNewser: Zimmerman Trial Stirs More Pundit Pontification About CNN

Deanese Williams-Harris, Chicago Tribune: Social media ‘blackout’ as jury gets Trayvon Martin case

Juan Williams, Fox News: ‘Crackers,’ a ‘teenage mammy’ — the sorry truth about race and Zimmerman trial