Last week, stung by reactions to phone-snooping on reporters (and, in at least one case, a reporter’s parents), the Justice Department issued new guidelines for dealing with the media when investigating leaks. Many people are cheering these guidelines, but I’m not sure they’re good enough.
I have two problems: First, in the incidents mentioned above, according to Associated Press President Gary Pruitt, the Justice Department violated its old guidelines. If the Justice Department didn’t follow its own rules before, why is it more likely to follow the new rules? Ultimately, it’s hard to trust an administration that seems to see every legal requirement as, like ObamaCare, waivable when inconvenient.
My second problem is more general. Does this policy protect anyone doing journalism, or just members of the establishment? The Justice Department talks about protection for “news media” (the guidelines don’t use the word “press”) but doesn’t provide any guidance on just who that is. Presumably, if you’re drawing a paycheck from the New York Times or Gannett (the parent company of USA TODAY), you’re covered. (But note that, not too long ago, the Obama administration was claiming that Fox News, home of James Rosen, one of the key targets of recent Justice Department snooping, was not a “legitimate news organization.”) If the Justice Department can pick and choose in this fashion, the guidelines don’t mean much.