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Media Split Over Attending Holder Meetings

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Thursday, 30 May 2013 11:20 AM

By Lisa Barron

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Leading members of the media are split over whether they should attend off-the-record briefings with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the Justice Department's surveillance of reporters.

Holder, who agreed to conduct a review of DOJ guidelines over investigations that involve journalists, has attempted to set up meetings with members of the media for Thursday and Friday.

But The Associated Press, which had the phone records of several of its journalists seized by the Justice Department, said it wants any meeting to be on the record so it could be reportable.

AP media relations manager Erin Madigan White issued a statement Wednesday saying, "If it is not on the record, AP will not attend and instead will offer our views on how the regulations should be updated in an open letter."

Fox News, which also had its phone records pulled by the DOJ, agrees with AP. Michael Clemente, Fox News' executive vice president, decided Fox will not send a representative to the meeting at the agency's headquarters in Washington if Holder continues to insist the session be off the record.

The Justice Department went even further in the Fox case, seizing the personal emails of correspondent James Rosen and accusing him of being a criminal "co-conspirator" in leaks about North Korea's potential response to new United Nations sanctions.

The New York Times is adopting the same position, with executive editor Jill Abramson saying in a statement, "It isn't appropriate for us to attend an off-the-record meeting with the attorney general."

CNN is declining the invitation as well unless it is on the record, a CNN spokesperson said.

The Huffington Post's Washington bureau chief, Ryan Grim, also said he would not attend if the meeting is off the record. "A conversation specifically about the freedom of the press should be an open one. We have a responsibility not to betray that," he told CNN.

And McClatchy's Washington bureau chief James Asher told Poynter on Thursday that he won't attend, saying the meeting "seems designed mostly to make a public relations point and not a substantive one. If the government wants to justify its pursuit of journalists, they ought to do it in public."

Politico, on the other hand, posted a story saying that top executive John Harris plans to attend one of the meetings with Holder.

"As editor-in-chief, I routinely have off-the-record conversations with people who have questions or grievances about our coverage or our newsgathering practices," he said. "I feel anyone -- whether an official or ordinary reader -- should be able to have an unguarded conversation with someone in a position of accountability for a news organization when there is good reason."

The Washington Post's executive editor, Marty Baron, has also said he will meet with Holder, telling the Post's Erik Wemple blog on Wednesday that although he prefers any meeting to be on the record, "Journalists routinely participate in off-the-record sessions, whether they prefer those conditions or not, and then continue to report on events."

He continued, "I am going to this meeting in order to represent our interests as journalists and to raise our concerns. I'll also listen to what the Attorney General has to say. I trust that our journalists will report on this as vigorously as they would any other subject."


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