Words Mean Something: How Eric Holder Pretends He Won't Put Reporters In Jail Without Actually Saying That

from the watch-those-caveats dept

The DOJ has been claiming that it will be more respectful of journalists and their rights after two scandals from last year, involving spying on AP reporters and claiming reporter James Rosen was a “co-conspirator” in order to get access to his phone and email records. However, it’s pretty clear that the DOJ still has no problem using questionable legal moves against reporters, such as in the ongoing situation with James Risen (note the one letter difference from the different reporter, Rosen, above). As we noted recently, the DOJ is still trying to send Risen to jail.

In a meeting with reporters (on a different topic), Holder was asked about Risen, and said: “no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” This resulted in the NY Times and others suggesting that the DOJ wouldn’t send Risen to jail if he continues to resist giving up his sources in one of the DOJ’s many “leak” investigations.

However, it’s important to note that Holder chose his words carefully, and might not actually be saying what some in the press seem to think he’s saying. Note the caveat: it only applies to a “reporter who is doing his job.” And, given the way the DOJ treats these things, it doesn’t seem to think that reporting on leaks is a legitimate part of a reporter’s job.

Kevin Gosztola, over at Firedoglake, further notes that the administration has been playing word games concerning Risen for a long time, including the repeated assertion that they’re not prosecuting him. He points to this interview between Ken Auletta and the top lawyer for the Director of National Intelligence, Robert Litt:

KEN AULETTA: Do you agree that Jim Risen ought to be prosecuted for…?

ROBERT LITT: Jim Risen is not being prosecuted.

AULETTA: …Not revealing his sources?

LITT: He’s not being prosecuted. He is being subpoenaed to give evidence as other people. The courts have determined that—to this day at least—that he doesn’t have a privilege against giving that information.

There was discussion in the last panel of a media shield law. That’s a law that President Obama has endorsed. I am not going to speculate as to how that would’ve applied to his particular case, but if there is a media shield law that’s passed, that’s another thing that the courts can do to enforce it.

There’s never been a reporter prosecuted. I don’t think there ever will be a reporter prosecuted because I think every president is aware of the adage about not getting into an argument with somebody who buys printer’s ink by the barrel. I think that as a practical matter, but it’s very different in my mind to go after the people responsible for leaking the information. [emphasis added]

So, he’s not being prosecuted, and he won’t go to jail if he only focused on “doing his job.” But as long as he’s involved in writing about leaks, he may not be “doing his job” and it seems quite likely that he may go to jail.

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Comments on “Words Mean Something: How Eric Holder Pretends He Won't Put Reporters In Jail Without Actually Saying That”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Small but important change:

‘Words Mean Nothing

Actions are all that matters. They can say whatever they want, what they’ve done is what people should be paying attention do, and based upon past and current actions, while they can claim to ‘respect the rights of reporters’, all that means is they’ll classify cracking down on them as something other than ‘prosecution’, and continue on with it anyway.

OrganizedThoughtCrime (profile) says:

Re: Small but important change:

I think this is a good article, and I agree with Mr. Masnick that it’s worth pointing out. If words meant nothing, they wouldn’t spend so much time trying to redefine them, as is the case here. Another example is their attempt to redefine the mass surveillance in the US as ‘bulk collection’, as though to suggest that they only collect it, period.

Anonymous Coward says:

Does any one noticed a common thread in all these government actions on word games being employed? Take your pick, they are all playing them. Start at the top with POTUS, through the administration, including the DOJ, ICE, you name it, right on down to the security branches.

All are saying one thing and meaning something else entirely. I would suggest that Obama is a large part of this redefining process without any actual proof. But it all ties together when you go looking.

Anonymous Coward says:

and what about Holder?

Did he take a different oath of office then others? Did he not swear to ” uphold and protect the Constitution of the USA”? Exactly when is Holder going to either “do his job” or be thrown in jail? Lets not forget there is a whole gang of criminal co-conspirators in office now that deserve like treatment.

Shalom Beck (user link) says:

Risen should obey the law or go to jail

Risen should have gone to jail for his publications on the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, which publications violated the 1917 Espionage Act.
Holder, unfortunately, is not threatening to jail reporters for their crimes, but threatening them with contempt charges if they refuse to give up their sources. In this respect reporters have no constitutional privilege.

Tom Mink (profile) says:

Of course reporters don't get prosecuted, they just go to jail

If you’re just some schlub without a corporate legal department backing you up, then you’re not a reporter and so posting information about the government will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

If you’re a REAL reporter, ie someone lucky enough to have lawyers on tap to resist charges, then you won’t be prosecuted for properly exercising your constitutional rights because the First Amendment and such. Nope, you just have to forfeit your livelihood and reputation as a journalist by complying with a subpoena to give up your sources, or else go to jail for contempt. Real journalists doing their jobs always comply with court orders and the other kind are dangerous malcontents.

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