Several News Organizations Rebuff Holder Meetings

Attorney General Eric Holder has invited news organizations to a meeting, held on background, to discuss the Justice Department's dealings with journalists. Several news organizations have declined to attend. Relations between Holder and journalists have been tense since revelations of DOJ leak investigations that have included broad subpoenas for journalists' emails and phone records. Robert Siegel speaks with NPR's David Folkenflik.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Executives from some major news organizations are meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today and tomorrow. The subject on the table, the Justice Department's aggressive leak investigations in which prosecutors have obtained reporters' telephone records and emails. But the meeting itself has become a point of tension as the Justice Department has tried to establish ground rules.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from our New York bureau to explain. Hello, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: The Justice Department initiated these meetings, invited the press amid a climate of tension with news organizations. Give us the background on that.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he suggests not a lot of love in the room at the moment. The Justice Department has embarked on about a half dozen very aggressive investigations into the leaks behind some cases that the government considers to be disclosure of national security secrets. In the process, prosecutors have obtained records from reporters involving their phone records and emails in various cases for the AP, for Fox News, The New York Times. In one affidavit, a Fox reporter was described as a co-conspirator in a criminal leak under the Espionage Act of 1917.

Last week, you may recall President Obama talked about national security issues in a pretty major speech, nationally televised, and he talked about the need to pursue these leaks, but also, he said that journalists should not be punished for doing their jobs. And we have a clip here I'd like to introduce in which he sets out an assignment for the attorney general.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've raised these issues with the attorney general, who shares my concerns. So he's agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and he'll convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review.

FOLKENFLIK: And what the president said was also that journalists shouldn't be punished for doing their jobs. That's the tension they're talking about. Attorney General Eric Holder is supposed to review this and come back to the president by July 12th.

SIEGEL: So these are the meetings the president was speaking of. Who's attending them? Who attended today? And I guess more to the point, who's not attending them?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there's a pair of meetings. There are some meetings this evening and meetings also tomorrow. The groups I've been able to confirm that are in include Politico, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, ABC News, the L.A. Times, USA Today. Those not deciding to attend include NPR, The New York Times, CBS News, AP, Reuters, the McClatchy newspaper chain and The Huffington Post. But it's a bit of moving target.

SIEGEL: Well, what are the restrictions on the meetings that are turning some news organizations off attending?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are two big things. First, initially, they were told that lawyers couldn't attend. And NPR had said that that was one of its stipulations because there were the desire to talk about some of the legal issues that were raised, both in terms of legislatively. The administration has said that it would persevere and try to get past a shield law with some protections for journalists and also the question of these subpoenas and warrants for journalists act. NPR and other - certain other news organizations said we want a lawyer to be present to walk through those things.

The other question that ruled it out for a number, including New York Times, was the idea that this would be off the record. The administration wants full and frank exchange of ideas, but newspaper and other news organization executives say, hey, we're in the business of getting information out to the public. We don't want to be part of an off-the-record deal.

SIEGEL: This is an unusual idea for a couple of meetings. What's likely to come of it?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's not clear. I talked to a number of people, including, say, Politico's John Harris today, and they were a little confused as to what the mission was for this meeting. They thought that it was possible, and they were a little concerned they could be used as props. But they also said it was possible that they could get some understanding of where the government was coming from and likely to go, and also, that perhaps they could make some progress about tightening some of the protections. The shield law protected by the government has a lot of loopholes in it. They thought perhaps they could get some progress on something like that.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Folkenflik in New York.

Late today, the Justice Department agreed to NPR's request to bring along its legal counsel. Ultimately, though, NPR decided against attending. NPR cited a lack of clarity about Holder's intentions for the meetings and also the decisions of many other news outlets not to participate.

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