Journalists split over meeting with U.S. attorney general

Thu May 30, 2013 1:15pm EDT
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By Susan Heavey and David Ingram

WASHINGTON May 30 (Reuters) - Several U.S. news organizations spurned an offer by Attorney General Eric Holder to meet and discuss how the Justice Department handles investigations that involve reporters, saying it would be inappropriate to talk in secret.

A number of other media organizations said they would attend a series of meetings starting Thursday that Holder scheduled following disclosures that his prosecutors seized journalist records without warning.

Justice Department officials said the meetings were "part of the review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters."

Reuters, CNN, The New York Times and the Associated Press declined to meet with Holder, President Barack Obama's top law enforcer, because the meetings were due to be "off the record," meaning they could not be recorded or reported.

At least four other news organizations planned to attend. It remained unclear how many media companies were invited or would attend. The meetings were planned for Thursday and Friday.

The talks follow the Obama administration's decision to search the email and phone records of Fox News, and the phone records of the Associated Press, as part of investigations into leaks of secret government information.

The seizure of records, and an FBI agent's description of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a potential criminal co-conspirator, led to an outcry from journalists and speech rights advocates and to new calls for a law protecting reporters' work.

It led to a debate in Washington over how the Obama administration is balancing the need for national security with privacy rights. Along with a separate furor over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative political groups for extra scrutiny, it also stoked fears of excessive government intrusion under Obama.   Continued...