Attorney General nominee won’t rule out jailing journalists for doing their jobs

January 16, 2019 11:00

RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force are calling on U.S. Attorney General nominee William Barr, who, during his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday refused to rule out jailing journalists, to state unequivocally that he will respect the First Amendment and journalists’ constitutionally-guaranteed duty to seek and report the truth, including information obtained by confidential sources.
 
“RTDNA will never support the appointment of a government official who blatantly disregards the First Amendment to our Constitution, ultimately standing in the way of the public’s right and need to know what is happening inside the political establishment,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director.
 
“To be sure, previous administrations and attorneys general have been extremely aggressive in targeting journalists. That does not make Mr. Barr’s comments any less concerning or more acceptable,” he added.
 
In response to a question from Sen. Judiciary Committee member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), President Trump’s selection for the nation’s next top law enforcement officer hesitated before finally stating:
 
I think that, you know, I know there are guidelines in place. And I can conceive of situations where, you know, as a last resort and where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, knows that they’re putting out stuff that will hurt the country — there could be a situation where someone could be held in contempt.
 
RTDNA applauds Senator Klobuchar, who also asked Barr to submit a written document expanding on his views, for raising the crucial issue of protecting journalists, a stance RTDNA has constantly pursued.
 
Under former President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder aggressively persecuted journalists until, at the urging of RTDNA and several other press freedom groups, new rules enacted in 2015 allowed federal law enforcement officers to subpoena or arrest journalists only after they had exhausted virtually every other avenue to learn the information they were seeking, and then only with the express approval of the attorney general himself, or his designee.
 
President Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, indicated after assuming office that he would review those regulations governing the prosecution and incarceration of journalists and, while there is no evidence that Sessions did so, the Justice Department under his leadership drastically increased the use of the Espionage Act and other laws to prosecute government employees and others who leaked information to journalists. In June, for example, RTDNA strongly protested the Justice Department’s secret seizure of email and email and telephone records of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins in the case of Former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James Wolfe, who was accused of lying to the FBI about contacts with journalists as part of a leak investigation.
 
RTDNA offers resources for journalists to protect themselves, their information and their sources here.
 
RTDNA’s Voice of the First Amendment Task Force defends against threats to the First Amendment and news media access and helps the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to the task force by contacting pressfreedom@rtdna.org and contributing to support press freedom.