DOJ’s announcement is a threat to readers

The Enterprise, an Associated Press member, endorses this statement by Associated Press Media Editors and the American Society of News Editors:

As the leaders of America’s newsrooms, the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors come together to express our dismay with the statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions Friday [Aug. 4] about unauthorized disclosures of information. We are particularly concerned by the indication that the Department of Justice may review and revise the guidelines currently in place regarding the issuance of subpoenas to the media and the insinuation that reporters “place lives at risk with impunity.” Revisions to these guidelines, which were updated in 2013 to increase the steps that must be taken before a reporter is subpoenaed by the department, would do more damage than good. Reporters who talk to confidential or nonconfidential sources take the utmost care to ensure that they only publish information and stories that serve the public interest while avoiding putting anyone in harm’s way.

“Attorney General Sessions’ remarks minimize the care with which journalists treat their sources and their information,” said ASNE President Mizell Stewart III, vice president of news operations for Gannett and the USA Today Network. “The publication of information received from a confidential source, especially classified information or information relating to national security in any way, occurs only after significant vetting by several people at all levels of the newsroom. It is also well-documented that media outlets actively seek the input of the government before publishing any sensitive information.”

Dennis Anderson, executive editor of the Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois, and APME First Amendment committee chairman, said, “We are acutely concerned that the attorney general seeks to roll back protections for reporters that were strengthened only after it was revealed that the Department of Justice had clandestinely subpoenaed the communications records of 20 Associated Press reporters from various telephone providers. Reversion to these tactics threatens the award-winning, impactful reporting AP does in the United States and around the world. As our members publish those stories to readers in their local communities on a daily basis, this is not just a threat to reporters and sources; it is a threat to our readers.”

ASNE and APME urge the attorney general to maintain, or strengthen, the guidelines currently in place for subpoenas to the media and to further engage with our organizations and others to discuss any concerns he and other administration officials might have. We also call on the United States Congress to formally protect the free flow of information to the public by reintroducing and passing federal legislation that would allow journalists to protect their sources.