Gary Pruitt, president of The Associated Press (AP), told the National Press Club at a luncheon today that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enjoys the luxury of operating with few systemic checks and balances when it comes to warrantless and secret surveillance, calling the Nation’s highest law enforcement office the government’s own “judge, jury and executioner” for breaking its own rules when it secretly culled the AP’s phone records.
Instead of notifying the news company that it had subpoenaed call records for more than 20 separate phone lines from its offices in three cities and working with the AP to hone in on whomever DOJ was targeting, Pruitt said the DOJ just made the scope of its seizure as broad as it wanted.
“There was never that opportunity,” he said. “Instead the DOJ acted as judge, jury and executioner in private; in secret.”
The fallout from the scandal, which galvanized the AP and other news organizations against the Feds and momentarily woke them to the myth of President Barack Obama’s “transparency” Administration, is strangling the relationship between news bureaus in Washington, D.C., and many of their cultivated sources from inside the government. Why? Government intimidation, said Pruitt:
The actions of the DOJ against AP are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this particular case. Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren’t about national security. And in some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person.
This chilling effect is not just at AP; it’s happening at other news organizations as well. Journalists from other news organizations have personally told me it has intimidated sources from speaking to them.