Nation’s Leading Journalists: Leak Investigations Chilling Our Reporting, Hurting Public’s Right-To-Know


Executive Director

This morning on CBS Face the Nation, President and CEO of the Associated Press Gary Pruitt called the Justice Department’s seizure of  AP’s call records “unconstitutional” and said it has already had a chilling effect on newsgathering.

The chilling effect may end up being the lasting effect of this scandal: while the subpoenas are certainly an assault on press freedom, it's the American public is who ends up losing the most in these investigations. Virtually the entire national security apparatus is classified, and often the only way the American people find out what their government is doing behind this veil of secrecy is through leaks to the press.

Recently, the nation's leading national security reporters have begun to explain why these leak investgations are so dangerous:

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McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay recently wrote a report on US drone strikes based on five years of Top Secret classified intelligence reports, which has been called “the most important story about CIA drone strikes ever.” He told Huffington Post:

"Do I think that [the Justice Department] could come after me? Yes."

"I can tell you that people who normally would meet with me, sort of in a more relaxed atmosphere, are on pins and needles."

"The harder the government tries to control critical information, the more damage it does to the quality of our democracy."

NBC national security reporter Michael Isikoff, who recently published the leaked Justice Department white paper justifying extra-judicial drone strikes on American citizens:          

"The Obama administration's been extremely aggressive in trying to root out whistleblowers within the government."

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who wrote the award-winning book on US counterterrorism policy “The Dark Side” during the Bush administration, and an influential profile of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake:

"People reporters need to be able to speak to become legally quarantined, so there’s no way then to get the story. It’s a huge impediment to reporting, and so chilling isn’t quite strong enough, it’s more like freezing the whole process into a standstill." (Source)

"I worry that the public may not be getting critical national security information about which it has a right to know." (Source)

Washington Post report Dana Priest, who won a Pulizter Prize for her investigation into CIA secret prisons, and co-wrote the book Top Secret America:

"The Obama adminstration has been even more aggressive in using legal means to pursue instances of unauthorized leaks of classified material to the media than the Bush administration ever was."

"Even if all these people were to be found not guilty, the effort to prosecute, and the threats of further prosecutions, have a chilling effect on the relationship between government sources and the media. Ultimately, they affect the ability to keep the public informed on what its government is doing in its name." (Source)

New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, whose phone records were seized during the Bush administration:

“I really remember thinking at the time, ‘My goodness, if I were one of my sources, I would never talk to me again, even about stories that really would have been a public service.” (Source)

New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, who shared a Pulitzer Prize with James Risen for their investigation into the NSA’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program in 2005:

“I heard from various news sources that the FBI had been monitoring my phone and Internet communications with certain people as part of its leak investigation into our NSA story.”

"When I initially moved off the Justice Department beat in 2009, part of the thinking there was the threat of the subpoena. While the Justice Department never made good on the threat, it certainly made it more difficult to do my job in dealing with confidential sources when you realize you may be forced to testify before a grand jury or risk going to jail to protect a source." (Source)

Scott Shane, the New York Times lead national security reporter:

"Officials are reluctant to get anywhere close to the line. Take drones. The official position is that the government cannot confirm or deny the existence of a drone program in Pakistan. But the president has spoken several times, publicly, about the program. Is someone going to get into trouble for talking about it?"

"Sometimes they’ll offer some black humor about it. ‘So you want me to be the next person to go to prison?’ But it actually has been much harder to get people to talk about anything, even in a sensitive-but-unclassified area." (Source)

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson at a speech in June:

"The chilling effect of leaks prosecutions threatens to rob the public of vital information. Sources fear legal retribution for simply talking to reporters."

"Several reporters who have covered national security in Washington for decades tell me that the environment has never been tougher or information harder to dislodge. One Times reporter [says] the environment in Washington has never been more hostile to reporting." (Source)

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