It seems some major news outlets are not all that thrilled about Attorney General Eric Holder’s invitation to meet with their Washington bureau chiefs this week.
At issue is the fact that Holder’s meetings – at least the first one – to discuss guidelines for journalists in leak investigations will be off the record, which has several major outlets declining attendance.
Here’s a roundup of quotes from some of those outlets on the matter:
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post told its own Erik Wemple Blog:
“I prefer that any meeting be on the record. That said, journalists routinely participate in off-the-record sessions, whether they prefer those conditions or not, and then continue to report on events. I am going to this meeting in order to represent our interests as journalists and to raise our concerns. I’ll also listen to what the Attorney General has to say. I trust that our journalists will report on this as vigorously as they would any other subject.”
Jill Abramson, Editor in Chief of the New York Times told the Huffington Post:
“We will not be attending the session at DOJ,” Abramson said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “It isn’t appropriate for us to attend an off the record meeting with the attorney general. Our Washington bureau is aggressively covering the department’s handling of leak investigations at this time.”
“Evidently, there will be a future session with department officials on the substance of how the law should be applied in leak cases and I am hopeful that our counsel, David McCraw, will be able to participate in that meeting,” Abramson added.
Erin Madigan, a spokeswoman for the Associated Press told the Huffington Post:
“We believe the meeting should be on the record and we have said that to the Attorney General’s office. If it is on the record, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll will attend,” Madigan White said. “If it is not on the record, AP will not attend and instead will offer our views on how the regulations should be updated in an open letter. We would expect AP attorneys to be included in any planned meetings between the Attorney General’s office and media lawyers on the legal specifics.”
Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief of the Huffington Post told WaPo’s Erik Wemple Blog:
“Off-the-record would not fly. … I don’t need to go in there with a tape recorder and wiretap the meeting. But I imagine I’m free to talk about what’s said in there.”
CNN also stated that it intends to skip the meeting if it is off the record.
Like the New York Times and the Associated Press, CNN will decline the invitation for an off-the-record meeting. A CNN spokesperson says if the meeting with the attorney general is on the record, CNN would plan to participate.
James Asher, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy told Poynter:
“They don’t help us inform the public,” Asher said of off-the-record meetings in a phone interview with Poynter. “This one seems designed mostly to make a public relations point and not a substantive one. If the government wants to justify its pursuit of journalists, they ought to do it in public.”
FOX News told Business Insider this morning that it was still undecided whether or not it would attend the meeting. But in a later post, the outlet confirmed that it in fact will not be attending the meeting.
Fox News joined several other major media outlets Thursday in refusing to send a representative to a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder on the department’s surveillance of reporters if Holder continues to insist that the session be off the record.
Michael Clemente, Fox News’ executive vice president, said that Fox News will not attend the off-record talks.
Those that have agreed to attend the meetings thus far include Politico, ABC News and the Washington Post, according to Politico. John Harris, Editor-in-Chief of Politico remarked the following in regard to his own outlet:
“As editor in chief, I routinely have off-the-record conversations with people who have questions or grievances about our coverage or our newsgathering practices. I feel anyone—whether an official or ordinary reader—should be able to have an unguarded conversation with someone in a position of accountability for a news organization when there is good reason,” Harris said in an email.
A Justice Department official provided specifics on the planned meetings to Politico’s Mike Allen.
“Attorney General Eric Holder will hold meetings with several Washington bureau chiefs of national news organizations in the next two days as part of the review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters. This review, which was announced by President Obama last Thursday, is consistent with the Attorney General’s long standing belief that protecting and defending the First Amendment is essential to our democracy. These meetings will begin a series of discussions that will continue to take place over the coming weeks. During these sessions, the Attorney General will engage with a diverse and representative group of news media organizations, including print, wires, radio, television, online media and news and trade associations. Further discussions will include news media executives and general counsels as well as government experts in intelligence and investigative agencies.”
An unnamed Justice Department official further elaborated upon the agency’s rationale behind making the discussion off the record, via WaPo’s Erik Wemple Blog:
“This format will best facilitate the candid, free-flowing discussions we hope to have in order to bring about meaningful engagement.”
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