National Press Club

Club Stands With Dozens of News Groups Protesting Associated Press Investigation

May 15, 2013 | By Jeff Plungis |

The National Press Club joined more than four dozen media organizations to call for the Justice Department to return phone records of Associated Press reporters obtained in what was described as "an overreaching dragnet for news gathering materials."

The Club joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Society of Professional Journalists, among others, in protesting the investigation, which they said calls into question the integrity the Obama administration's ability to balance police powers with the constitutional rights of the news media and the public.

"None of us can remember an instance where such an overreaching dragnet for news gathering materials was deployed by the Department, particularly without notice to the affected reporters or an opportunity to seek judicial review," the 50 groups said in a letter.

Attorney General Eric Holder said he had recused himself from the investigation after being personally questioned by the FBI about being a source of a leak for a May 2012 AP story that discussed how the CIA broke up a terrorist plot in Yemen. Holder said the leak was one of the most serious he had ever seen.

The news organizations said Justice hasn't followed the basic steps required by laws passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal to protect press freedoms. There's no evidence that the government has sought information from other sources, that it informed the AP of its intention or gave the company a chance to negotiate, or that it balanced the public's right to know against the needs of law enforcement. The department appears to have gathered journalists' phone records "as a first resort, not a last resort," the groups said.

National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane posted a statement on her blog Monday asking for answers. "This appears to be a gross violation of press freedom," Greiling Keane said. "If there's a good explanation for this, the public has a right to hear it."