SPJ President: DOJ violated its own policy in seizing AP phone records

Check out this open letter from SPJ President Sonny Albarado to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter answers Holder’s invitation to attend one of a series of off-the-record policy meetings at the Department of Justice, in response to the DOJ’s seizure of Associated Press phone records.

Read Albarado’s letter here, and visit spj.org for updates.

Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208

June 7, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder
Office of the Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Holder:

The Society of Professional Journalists appreciates your interest in hearing from journalism groups and news organizations about Department of Justice policy on investigations that involve journalists.

We disagree with your intention to hold off-the-record sessions and were glad to see that you agreed in previous meetings to dissemination of summaries of the content of those meetings.

We believe even more transparency is required for such important issues as press freedom and government intrusion into the news-gathering process.

But a larger issue lies beyond whether your meetings are on or off the record.

What does the Justice Department hope to gain from these meetings – for itself, the Administration and the national security apparatus?

We understand that your office is reviewing the guidelines on subpoenas of journalists established in 1972, guidelines we believe the Justice Department violated in its subpoena of The Associated Press’ phone records last year.

While not perfect from a journalist’s perspective, the guidelines are quite good. We would object to any attempt to water them down, include new exceptions and caveats or otherwise make it easier for the government to disregard.

What we would like to see from you and the administration is a statement affirming your support of the existing guidelines, a statement that assures the press and the public that the Justice Department will follow the guidelines — especially the provisions that mandate a narrowly drawn subpoena and notice to the affected news organization.

We also would like to see you and the President affirm that most journalists are thoughtful, patriotic and judicious Americans and that these journalists diligently strive, with the help of government sources, to ensure that published information about our country’s efforts to fight terrorism and other national security matters do not compromise or otherwise harm lawful national security activities.

SPJ members believe strongly that the first duty of journalism is to seek truth and report it. Yet, we also strive to temper that high goal by recognizing that sources, subjects and colleagues are human and deserving of respect. Balancing these aims sometimes creates tension within ourselves, within our profession and within our relationships with government and the public.

We hope that you and your agency will work with the journalism community to sustain the aspirations of the existing Guidelines and strengthen rather than weaken them.


Sonny Albarado
Society of Professional Journalists
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
501-244-4321 (office)

501-551-8811 (cell)

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