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by Clarence Page
Attorney General Eric Holder's meeting with journalists and media rights advocates, including me, began in the way many Washington conversations do, with negotiations as to what was to be "off the record."
The meeting was one of a series Holder has been holding with editors, bureau chiefs, network executives and media rights organizations to discuss his
The sad fact about the Constitution's protections of journalists in such cases is how few protections we have. The media and the government are still operating under the legacy of the
Yet, in a bow to free press rights, the court also held that the government must "convincingly show a substantial relation between the information sought and a subject of overriding and compelling state interest." If that sounds about as clear as an oil spill to you, you're not alone.
The high court has yet to revisit the issue, but the
What brings the issue up again are the revelations that earlier this year Justice secretly conducted the most aggressive known federal seizure of media records since the
They also obtained a warrant to search email records at
Holder also denied at a May 15 hearing that he had ever been involved in any decision to pursue a criminal investigation of a journalist. He also declared that it would not be "wise policy" to do so. Yet in the affidavit for the
Bridging such cultural gaps was one of Holder's stated reasons for holding the meeting as part of a review ordered by President Obama to come up with proposals for new or improved rules by mid-July.
If this sounds like an inside-baseball concern, limited to media workers, consider for a moment how many questionable government activities we know about thanks to leakers and the reporters who reported their leaks. Notable examples in recent years include warrantless eavesdropping, "renditions" to secret prisons, waterboarding and armed drones.
One of the most commonly raised concerns of media workers, executives and advocates in Holder's meetings was how and why media should be notified of an investigation, as the department's guidelines indicate. Then they can negotiate with the government over what should be released and how. Holder acknowledged that the vast majority of such disputes are quietly resolved in this way without going to court.
If the two parties can't come to an agreement, a secret federal court would provide an objective third party to settle the issue. Judges aren't perfect, but they provide a valuable assurance that the government must prove its case before stepping on the public's right to know.
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Leaking Attorney General Holder's Meeting