The board of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists condemns the Department of Justice’s deliberate disregard of the United States Constitution in its secret confiscation of telephonic records of offices and journalists of The Associated Press. The NSNC board demands strong disciplinary action against those responsible for violating the First Amendment in this manner.
The AP has reported that Ronald Machen, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, wrote it a letter received Friday, May 10, 2013, that, through subpoenas the AP did not have the opportunity to fight, his office had obtained records covering April and May 2012 for more than 20 phone lines used in offices in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., where more than 100 journalists work.
The AP piece noted, “Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual.” The report also said, “Rules published by the Justice Department require that subpoenas of records of news organizations must be personally approved by the attorney general, but it was not known if that happened in this case.”
Attorney General Eric Holder carries final responsibility for the actions of every Department of Justice office and should be held accountable here, the columnists’ society board agreed in an emailed vote May 13-14.
AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt called this a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into news gathering. While the government would not say why it took the records, AP noted that the Washington U.S. attorney’s office is investigating how information was obtained for a May 2012 AP article into a foiled terrorist plot.
While the attorney general is the nation’s “chief law enforcement officer,” implicit in the job description is upholding federal law that is based on the Constitution, Bill of Rights and other amendments.
While the NSNC board of course supports the defense of the country and prosecution of criminals, it expects justice to be served within constitutional rights of due process, reasonable search, and unfettered press and speech.
The NSNC serves columnists and all writers of the serial essay, and its mission includes advocating for free-press issues.
The Associated Press was founded in 1846 as a not-for-profit cooperative, owned by some 1,500 U.S. news media outlets. Its history is at this link.