Obama ‘Troubled’ by Threats to Journalism

Will Eric Holder consult journalists of color during the Justice Department's review?

President Obama arrives at the White House on May 24, 2013. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama arrives at the White House on May 24, 2013. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama ordered a review on Thursday 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 for the New York Times.

Later Thursday, the Justice Department announced that “As part of that review, the Attorney General will consult a diverse and representative group of media organizations. In the coming days, he looks forward to meaningful engagement with these media representatives as well as other experts inside and outside government. . . .,” Michael Calderone reported for the Huffington Post.

It was unclear whether the “diverse and representative group of media organizations” would include the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists or Unity: Journalists for Diversity, all of which have issued statements of alarm about the Justice Department’s acknowledgement that it had secretly obtained telephone records of Associated Press reporters and editors.

Adora Andy, press secretary for the Justice Department, did not respond to a request for comment.

In his wide-ranging speech on counterterrorism Thursday, Obama said, “I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.

“Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. And that’s why I’ve called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach. And I’ve raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concerns. . . ,” referring to Eric H. Holder Jr.

Landler’s story continued, “Mr. Obama instructed Mr. Holder to report back to him by July 12.

“Among the issues likely to be discussed is how broadly the government should be allowed to subpoena telephone, e-mail or other records belonging to journalists who have reported on classified information.

“Asking Mr. Holder to lead the review, however, puts the attorney general in the awkward position of scrutinizing investigations that his department has pursued.

“Mr. Obama’s remarks came amid deepening concern among many news organizations that the government is breaking new ground in how it investigates leaks of national security secrets. In a case involving The Associated Press, the government seized records of 20 office and home phone lines for A.P. reporters and editors.

“In a case involving a Fox News correspondent, James Rosen, prosecutors obtained a search warrant for Mr. Rosen’s phone and e-mail records, after describing him as a possible ‘co-conspirator’ for publishing information about a potential North Korean missile test.

“On Wednesday, NBC News reported that Mr. Holder had signed off on the search warrant. . . .”

Meanwhile, on Friday, the advocacy group Free Press and more than 60 civil liberties, digital rights, press freedom and public interest groups sent a letter to Holder demanding a full, transparent account of the Justice Department’s targeting of journalists and whistleblowers.

The groups included the Society of Professional Journalists, the Newspaper Guild-CWA, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, NABJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, ColorOfChange.org and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The letter was prepared and signed before Obama’s Thursday speech. Asked whether its contents still stand, Free Press spokeswoman Jenn Ettinger replied by email, “Yes — everything in the letter still stands. We welcome what Obama said about how journalists must be able to do their jobs. But we’ll need to results and changes at DOJ to demonstrate this is a real commitment and not just an attempt to shift the conversation.

“Our call is for a full and transparent accounting — that is all the more relevant now that Obama has asked the agency to review its own rules. In addition, Obama has asked Holder to meet with media groups and media executives to discuss the agency’s guidelines, but our letter makes clear that concerns about this issue extend beyond just the press. Ideally, the DOJ would hold a transparent process with ample opportunities for feedback from the public and other stakeholders.”

Steve Benen, the Maddow Blog, MSNBC: Watching a scandal slowly ‘metastasize’

Columbia Journalism Review: Must-reads of the week: Obama’s war on journalism

George E. Curry, National Newspaper Publishers Association: Obama’s Troubles Not Comparable to ‘Watergate’

Leonard Downie Jr., Washington Post: Obama’s war on leaks undermines investigative journalism

Editorial, Chicago Tribune: Obama won’t ground aerial strikes that kill terrorists. Good.

Editorial, New York Times: The End of the Perpetual War

Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times: Fox News CEO Roger Ailes blasts administration, praises his team

Michael Isikoff, NBC News: DOJ confirms Holder OK’d search warrant for Fox News reporter’s private emails, official says

Alex Pareene, Salon: Eric Holder versus journalism

Remarks by the President at the National Defense University 

Noah Rothman, Mediaite: Geraldo Goes Off: Obama ‘Terrorizing Journalists’ An ‘Un-American’ Effort To ‘Criminalize’ Reporting

Smiley: Displeased Obama Aides Pressured My Sponsors

Tavis Smiley, marking his 10th year on PBS, “contends that members of the Obama administration, whom he didn’t identify, have pressured sponsors to drop their support of his projects, including his anti-poverty initiatives,” Lynn Elber reported Friday for the Associated Press.

Elber also reported, “Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the PBS show’s underwriter since the start, has ‘consistently stood by our side,’ said a Smiley spokeswoman. But others have dropped out or donated money to his projects on the condition of privacy because they’ve heard from a displeased White House, according to Smiley.”

Leshelle V. Sargent, a spokeswoman for Smiley, offered no evidence of such pressure nor named any underwriters who had heard from the White House. She told Journal-isms by email, “After 10 years and 2,000 shows on PBS, Mr. Smiley appreciates all of his underwriters. We are uninterested in subjecting former, present or future supporters to further scrutiny.”

Smiley, 48, “has drawn the ire of conservatives and, because of his insistent criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies, that of some liberals and African-Americans,” Elber wrote. She quoted Smiley saying, “This administration does not like to be criticized. And the irony of it is, there’s nothing I have tried to hold the president accountable on that my white progressive colleagues have not. They’re labeled courageous critics, but if I say it, I’m an ‘Obama critic.’ There’s race at play in the very question.”

Elber began her piece, “Tavis Smiley has stood out in 20 years in broadcasting, and he has no intention of changing his style or substance.

“He’s the rare black host with national TV and radio platforms, one who sees his job as challenging Americans to examine their assumptions on such thorny issues as poverty, education, and racial and gender equality.

“In other words, he doesn’t squander his opportunities on PBS’ daily talk show ‘Tavis Smiley,’ which marks its 10th year this month, or on public radio’s ‘The Tavis Smiley Show’ and ‘Smiley & West,’ the latter a forum for commentary he shares with scholar and activist Cornel West.

“His quarterly ‘Tavis Smiley Reports’ specials for PBS, in-depth looks at topics such as the relationship between the juvenile justice system and the teenage dropout rate, fit the same bold pattern.

“Smiley, marking two decades in broadcasting this year, considers himself engaged in a calling as much as a career: ‘This is the kind of work I think needs to be done. I’m trying to entertain and empower people.’ . . .”

Marketing Chief Janet Rollé Is Latest to Leave CNN

Janet Rollé, CNN Worldwide’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the last two years, is the latest African American to leave the network under its new leadership, Chris Ariens reported Friday for TVNewser.

Janet Rollé

“In a note to staff, obtained by TVNewser, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker writes, ‘In a busy time of new show launches and ongoing campaigns underscoring the strength of CNN and all its platforms, Janet led her team to successfully spread the word in creative, engaging ways. I want to thank her for that, and all that she has done in her tenure here.’ Rick Lewchuk who is SVP of creative services will lead the department in the interim. Structural changes to CNN’s marketing department may be in store.”

In January, Mark Whitaker, the former Newsweek editor who as executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide became the highest-ranking African American at CNN, resigned to give Zucker “his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff.”

CNN contributor Roland Martin’s contract was not renewed, and Soledad O’Brien’s morning “Starting Point” show was eliminated. O’Brien formed a production company and is to continue to supply documentaries to CNN — and others — on a nonexclusive basis.

A CNN spokeswoman noted that of Zucker’s nine hires, five are of color, though they are of less prominence. They are Stephanie Elam, who rejoins the network as a correspondent based in Los Angeles, and correspondents Alina Machado, Zain Asher and George Howell, as well as news anchor Michaela Pereira of the new morning program “New Day.”

Rollé previously worked at BET, MTV Networks and HBO. Last year, the National Association of Black Journalists gave her its Pat Tobin Media Professional Award [video], recognizing a public relations, advertising or marketing professional “who has had a distinctive impact in the media realm, resulting in positive media coverage of the black community.”

She represents the very essence of this award; the behind the scenes force helping to create on-air successes,” NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. said at the time. “Rolle is one of our industry’s brightest stars. . . . “

A Year Later, Reading Habits Change in New Orleans

A year ago today, news leaked that The Times-Picayune would cease daily publication, cut staff and focus on its website, NOLA.com, Eve Troeh reported for the Lens in New Orleans. “The paper and ink edition now hits doorsteps and newsstands just three days a week: Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

“History and tradition play an outsized role in New Orleans. So perhaps it is no surprise that The Times-Picayune’s move has led to a modern-day version of a relic of media history: the newspaper war.

“The Advocate, which launched its daily New Orleans edition when the Picayune stopped its own, is now beefing up under a new local owner, John Georges. The Times-Picayune now plans a tabloid paper, TPStreet, for three days that it had abandoned.

“Last year, photographer Bevil Knapp captured images of the daily newspaper ritual around New Orleans. This week I joined her to see how, nine months into this new era of news, people and communities are adapting. . . .”

Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune : New Orleans’ murder problem is its crime problem

Taylor Miller Thomas, Poynter Institute: Online campaign raises $15,000 for reporter who was shot in New Orleans

Tornado-Stricken Town Taking Media Invasion in Stride

Angie Tennyson and her teenage daughter Taylor were sitting in folding chairs in front of the ruins of Tennyson’s sister-in-law’s home on the corner of Seventh Street West and Telephone Road. Little remained of the home after Monday’s tornado tore through the Oklahoma City suburb, but the Tennysons were occupying prime media real estate,” Jay Newton-Small reported for Time magazine from Moore, Okla.

“The [Tennysons’] block — a few dozen homes, most of them devastated, halfway between city hall and the press center set up in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods — lent itself to media attention. And a destroyed hospital and bowling alley across the street from the family offered a dramatic backdrop for the television cameras — all the more so after police restricted access to the Plaza Towers Elementary School across town, where seven children died after the building was torn down by the cyclone.

“So for hours the family sat patiently as reporter after reporter approached them, asked for their story, then moved on.

” ‘I’m sorry,’ said one Good Morning America producer to the family, ‘do you mind our cameras pointed right at you?’

” ‘Not at all,’ replied Angie Tennyson.

“At least 200 journalists swarmed the two-square-block area, accompanied by two dozen satellite trucks. Japanese radio competed with British tabloids, German television and American networks. The families attempting to recover anything from their ruined homes found themselves hosting television satellite trucks in their driveways and replying to reporters’ questions as they dug through the remnants of their damaged homes. And yet, like the Tennysons, most were remarkably gracious about fielding questions while salvaging their lives. . . .”

John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: Ad Council Launches Tornado Relief PSA Campaign

Ruben Rosario, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.: When nature unleashes disaster, we respond with hope, resiliency