Telephone records of Associated Press reporters and editors were obtained by the Justice Department in an investigation the AP says gave the government access to information it "has no conceivable right to know" and endangers the way news organizations do their reporting.
The records, from April and May of 2012, were obtained from both work and personal phone numbers of journalists in New York, Washington, and Hartford, Conn. The government hasn't stated why it sought the records, but it is believed they are in association with an AP story published on May 7, 2012 about a thwarted terror plot in Yemen. There is no indication that content of the phone conversations was monitored.
Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama had no knowledge the Justice Department was collecting such information, but the scandal comes at a poor time for an administration already overwhelmed by further questions about the terrorist attack in Benghazi and partisan targeting by the IRS. Obama has been particularly aggressive in targeting leaks in his administration, and the blogosphere reacted strongly to this latest incident.
Kyle Wingfield of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it's about time the press started more closely scrutinizing the actions of the Obama administration:
So, unless someone at DOJ broke the rules in a big-time way – and breaking protocol to seize two months of phone records from a news organization certainly qualifies – this one would seem to go all the way into the cabinet.
This revelation could not come at a worse time for the Obama administration. Reporters slowly have gotten more aggressive about investigating the narrative administration officials have pushed about the heavy edits made by non-intelligence officials to the official talking points about the terrorist attack that claimed four American lives in Benghazi last September, as well as the acknowledged, inappropriate targeting of conservative groups for audits by the IRS starting in March 2010.
In short, members of the national news media who (rightly) have been criticized for going light on the administration have finally started to get a little tougher. And now they get word that their fellow reporters at the AP have been had their phone records secretly seized by the DOJ, likely on the orders of the attorney general. If ever there was a moment for the national news media to decide to take a much more adversarial stance against the Obama administration, this would have to be it.
Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation said the Obama administration's leak investigations are "out of control:"
It's time to stop looking at all of these leak investigations and prosecutions as ancillary to press freedom; they are a direct attack on it. This should be an important wake-up call for journalists.
While this incident has brought the Justice Department's crackdown on leakers to a new extreme, it's important to remember, this storm has been brewing for a while now. In five years, the Obama administration has prosecuted more leakers under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, and virtually all these prosecutions have engulfed journalists one way or another.
Ben Smith of Buzzfeed said Obama is "personally obsessed with leaks:"
The Justice Department's subpoena of phone records in a leak case probably shouldn't be a surprise: This Administration has been remarkably, unusually aggressive in targeting leaks – a policy that has surprised and pleased some critics, while alienating traditional alles. But, paired with questions about the IRS and a broader edginess over pervasive surveillance, it's a sleeper issue that seems poised to break outside its small circle of reporters and advocates.
This reaction, and this new fear, is in no small part the Administration's fault. Obama has always sought to control elements of politics that couldn't be controlled, and has an obvious affection for the surgical strike. But it also taps perfectly into the fears of the moment, in which futuristic visions of surveillance, hacking, impersonation, and drone war have become everyday powers of corporations, civilians, and the government.