Holder’s Dodge Off the Record

The attorney general needs to come clean about snooping on the press.

By SHARE
Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill on May 15, 2013, during the House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Justice Department. (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo)

Not too often are Fox News, the Associated Press and The New York Times on the same page, but this week they all agreed to bypass an off-the-record meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The New York Times editor Jill Abramson stated that they would not attend because they were aggressively covering the department's controversial leak investigation. Other organizations mentioned that they would agree to attend only if Holder would hold an on-the-record meeting.

While Holder seeks to repair his relationship with the press, fix the department's wrongdoing and restore his reputation, the media should remain skeptical and continue to demand on-the-record responses to their many questions. The fact that Holder would privately meet with news organizations to talk about how he is committed to changing the guidelines on investigations involving journalists does little to resolve the unanswered questions of why he would approve the subpoenas in the first place.

Holder's first directive should have been to hold an on-the-record news conference. He needs to explain what he knew and why the department secretly seized emails and phone records of Fox News journalist James Rosen, while listing him as a criminal co-conspirator on a national security leak, or why it also seized thousands of records from the Associated Press.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Eric Holder Lose His Job?]

The department's actions were intrusive, far-reaching and disconcerting to those in the media whose job is to report on the administration. These recent cases reflect a trend, which is that the administration seems controlling and paranoid of any organizations or individuals who question or challenge its policies.

By hosting a private meeting with the news editors, Holder wants to move beyond the scandal and not focus on explaining the department's repugnant actions, but the American public and the press deserve answers. Holder should publicly accept responsibility and provide additional information on whether other incidents have occurred within the department.

Holder may feel remorseful after reading the Washington Post's story on the department's investigation tactics, but his overreaching decisions may have severely damaged the administration's reputation among members of the press. Associated Press president Gary Pruitt said that the Obama administration gathered records from "thousands and thousands of phone calls" and they acted as "judge, jury and executioner" in obtaining these records.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should There Be Such a Thing as 'Reporter's Privilege'?]

The job of the press is to defend their institution, hold the government accountable and freely report and gather information. The surprising revelation that the Department of Justice targeted major news organizations has shaken the media to its core, even those journalists who have praised and defended President Obama. They feel cheated and violated by the same administration that promised transparency and accountability.

Leaders are calling on Holder to resign, but the president continues to remain faithful to his attorney general. Faced with perjury accusations, Holder is increasingly becoming a liability to the president. The press is more spending time and resources on investigating the administration's multiple scandals and less time on the Obama's second term agenda, which means more daily bad news for the president.

The most recent poll reflects the political hit taken by the president because of these controversies. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, Obama has only a 45 percent approval rating.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Whether or not the attorney general decides to resign, his primary responsibility when it comes to this scandal is to provide on-the-record answers to the press. Surely, revising the guidelines on journalists is critical, but these recent cases should have never occurred in the first place.

Now that the press is at the center of one of the scandals, they will not let Holder off the hook. The question is whether the administration is willing to cooperate. So far, its approach seems one-sided and controlling.

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