Eric Holder Reveals His Biggest Mistake as Attorney General: Subpoenaing Journalists

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks as columnist Jonathan Capehart looks on during a session at the sixth annual Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, Oct. 29, 2014, in Washington, D.C. 
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Attorney General Repeats, "No Reporter's Going to Jail"

Before Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart ended his interview with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at the Washington Ideas Forum Wednesday, he asked one final question: "What's the one decision you made that you wish you could do over again?," Matt Wilstein reported for Mediaite.


"Without much hesitation, Holder brought up the Justice Department subpoena of Fox News reporter James Rosen, who had his communications tracked in 2009 after he was suspected of receiving secret information from government sources on North Korea. In a subpoena to Google to obtain Rosen's emails, the government labeled him as an 'aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator.'

"Holder said he could have been more 'careful' in the language that was used in the court filing, especially regarding the word 'co-conspirator.' While he said the department 'had to do that as a result of the statute,' he added that 'there are ways in which I think that could have been done differently, done better.'


"The attorney general indicated that he felt the criticism he received for those actions was fair and said that it sparked a review of the way the Justice Department interacts with the media. . . ."

Holder also discussed a case involving James Risen, a New York Times reporter who recently lost a Supreme Court challenge to a subpoena forcing him to identify sources for his book "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."


"Holder said he's been in contact with Risen's lawyers and 'if what we have talked about remains true, I think there'll be a resolution of that that will be satisfactory to everyone', "Josh Feldman reported for Mediaite. Holder also repeated, "No reporter's going to jail as long as I'm attorney general."

"And while Rosen had responded to Holder by saying he 'scarcely addresses the relevant facts of his conduct,' Risen's attorney has no idea what the attorney general is talking about. . . ." The exchange took place at the sixth annual Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by the Atlantic magazine and the Aspen Institute.


Journalists have complained that the Obama administration has been more hostile than most to the news media. Last year, Leonard Downie Jr., a former executive editor of the Washington Post, issued a report on administration secrecy and wrote, "Reporters covering the Obama administration say more and more officials will no longer talk at all and refer them to uncommunicative or even hostile and bullying press aides . . . ."

Last month, when Holder announced that he planned to step down, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized, "Mr. Holder's commitment to civil rights was not matched by his commitment to civil liberties. In this, too, he mirrored Mr. Obama, a constitutional scholar who presided over the continuing growth of an intrusive internal surveillance operation.


"Mr. Holder massaged the Constitution's 'due process' clause to provide a legal rationale for the use of targeted killings of American citizens working for al-Qaida. With the president, he determined to let bygones be bygones regarding the CIA's use of torture during the Bush administration. He pursued journalists and sources who provided information that the public was entitled to know. He defended the FBI's warrantless use of bugs to track cars. . . ."

Administration Refines Practice of Leaking to News Outlets

"When the New York Times broke a story in June about the Obama administration's plans to expand its efforts on immigration enforcement, rival reporters spied a hidden hand behind the news," Paul Farhi reported Tuesday for the Washington Post. "With its prescient timing and abundant details, the article looked very much like an 'authorized' leak, a bit of news stage-managed by White House officials.


"Presidents, of course, have long manipulated select members of the news media with 'exclusives' designed to maximize an announcement's impact and enhance the administration's standing. The Obama White House is no different, but it has played the game a little differently. It doles out scoops irregularly, White House reporters say, and does so primarily to news outlets with a perceived expertise or special authority on a topic.

"In effect, it follows a strategy of market segmentation, steering leaks to a very short list of strategically valuable publications and journalists.


"The Times tends to be the administration's favored recipient for foreign policy and national security leaks. The Wall Street Journal (and, to a lesser extent, Bloomberg News) is the White House's go-to outlet for economic policy developments. The Washington Post gets its share of advance information about budget issues and government agencies. Politico's Mike Allen, who writes the insider Playbook feature, is a favorite for officially leaked personnel moves.

"The Associated Press and USA Today — the biggest domestic news service and the most widely circulated newspaper, respectively — get whatever is left over. . . ."


Zucker Ties CNN Sponsorship to NABJ Statement

CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker told CNN staffers on Wednesday that it was unwise for a partner such as the National Association of Black Journalists to criticize CNN's layoff decisions and to comment on lawsuits against the network while asking for money, according to attendees.


NABJ issued a statement this month saying it "is concerned about the atmosphere for African Americans at CNN" after Stanley Wilson, a longtime CNN employee, filed a $5 million wrongful-termination and discrimination lawsuit. Two days later, a representative of the network told NABJ President Bob Butler that the network was withdrawing its support of the association's 2015 convention, Butler said in an Oct. 17 announcement. Butler did not identify the representative.

CNN denied making a final decision on withdrawing sponsorship. "Following NABJ's recent comments about CNN, we informed them we were reconsidering our relationship, but we were clear that we had not made a final decision," the network said in a statement. "It's surprising to us that they would choose to make such a statement."


At Wednesday's meeting with staffers in New York, Zucker is said to have asserted that NABJ was not informed enough to know all the necessary details about the circumstances of the lawsuit. He said the network would make a decision on sponsorship early next year, and he maintained that the diversity of the network's anchor and correspondent pool had increased under his watch.

Asked about Zucker's statement on the prudence of NABJ's statements, CNN spokeswoman Christal Jones told Journal-isms by email, "Jeff's comments were consistent with what we have been saying publicly."


More Than 1,300 Bid Farewell to Ben Bradlee, His Era

"They came to bid farewell to Benjamin C. Bradlee, a 'journalistic warrior,' "Peter Baker wrote Wednesday for the New York Times. "They paid tribute to his fearless fervor for a good story, his old-school patriotism, his impatient energy, his irreducible magnetism and his sailor’s vocabulary. They mourned the passing not just of a larger-than-life figure, but of the bygone era he represented. . . ."


A spokeswoman for the Washington National Cathedral told Journal-isms that an impressive 1,358 people were present. Some were current and former Post journalists of color, although within five minutes of entering the historic sanctuary, this columnist was advised to check out the list of ushers, speakers, readers and other participants. None appeared to be of color, and few were women; all were family members or fellow journalists comfortable in Bradlee's personal circle. (By contrast, cathedral representatives, who also participated in the ceremony, were models of diversity.) 

Baker also wrote, "The service bore all the hallmarks of capital ritual: boldface names that once appeared in the columns Mr. Bradlee edited, meticulous orchestration befitting a state dinner, metal detectors, satellite trucks and live coverage on C-Span. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State John Kerry and Justice Stephen G. Breyer sat up front. . . ." The ritual Baker referenced is practiced by a certain slice of Washington: heavy on those involved in national politics. Local officials, ambassadors, sports or business figures and community leaders in the majority-black city, not so much.


However, none of that mattered much to those who came to celebrate Bradlee and his outsized influence on journalism at the end of the 20th century. He died last week at 93.

Marc Fisher wrote for the Post, "Mr. Bradlee's funeral Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral was an exercise in high Episcopal ritual, but also a statement of the man's irreverence and verve, a joyful cataloguing of the ingredients he used to transform his paper into one of the best: a zest for the great story, a certain swagger and above all, a belief that if ain't fun, it ain’t worth doing. . . ."


Baker continued, "After the pageantry came another Washington ritual, as hundreds of admirers descended on the couple's Georgetown house for a reception featuring martinis with yellow vermouth. . . "

Paul Farhi, Mark Berman and Amy Argetsinger, Washington Post: The funeral of Benjamin C. Bradlee


Roxanne Roberts, Washington Post: Sally Quinn throws Ben Bradlee one last A-list party

Eugene Robinson, Washington Post: The whole story about Ben Bradlee

Washington Post Post TV: Friends and Colleagues Remember Ben Bradlee (video)

Sister2Sister "Restructuring," but Hasn't Filed Bankruptcy

Sister2Sister magazine has not filed for bankruptcy protection but is "restructuring" as it puts the print edition on hiatus, a publicist for the magazine said Thursday.


On Monday, freelance writer Manny Otiko tweeted of Sister2Sister, "Now they say they are bankrupt and can't pay me!" He received a note from Editor at Large Sabrina Parker that said, "I am not accepting pitches because the print version of S2S is on hiatus. The company (Sister 2 Sister, Inc.) is currently going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy. . . ."

Publisher Jamie Foster Brown told Journal-isms by telephone Monday that the purpose of seeking bankruptcy protection is to be able to operate as the magazine transitions to digital.


On Thursday, however, publicist Darren Dickenson of DSD Consulting released a long-awaited statement from the magazine that "announced that the company is restructuring from publishing a subscriber and newsstand-based print publication to a digital platform that integrates content, events and social media activities to enhance the consumer experience and increase advertiser visibility."

The statement continued, " 'For our readers who still love the print-edition of Sister 2 Sister, the magazine is not going away,' said Publisher and Founder Jamie Foster Brown. 'We are putting it on hiatus while we reorganize to embrace the digital age for our subscribers and advertisers. We remain as dedicated to our mission today as we were 26 years ago.' "


"According to Foster Brown, the Maryland/DC-based multimedia company plans continued operation of its popular website,, during the restructuring period. The site, which features daily news and lifestyle coverage, has achieved an audience of 2 million unique visitors per month and enjoys the growing support of national advertisers. In addition to growing its digital platform, the company is making plans to produce more branded events, archive its rich history, while continuing to unite artists, their fans and marketers to create the ultimate experience for consumers. . . ."

Asked about the absence in the statement of a reference to the bankruptcy filing, Dickenson said by email, "There is no S2S bankruptcy filing to-date, nothing had been submitted to or requested of creditors or subscribers." [Added Oct. 30]


Pathologist in Michael Brown Case Disputes Conclusions

"A forensic pathologist quoted in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story about the shooting death of Michael Brown said some of her statements concerning the autopsy were taken out of context," Kimberly Kindy reported Tuesday for the Washington Post.


"Judy Melinek was quoted about the volatile case in which Brown — black, 18 and unarmed — was fatally shot Aug. 9 by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer.

"Last week's Post-Dispatch report, which focused on St. Louis County's official autopsy of Brown and an accompanying toxicology report, relied on unidentified sources with knowledge of the county's investigation of the shooting, leaked autopsy documents, and quotes from Melinek and others. The Post-Dispatch has said it stands by its reporting, including Melinek's comments.


"But Melinek said she did not assert that a gunshot wound on Brown's hand definitively showed that he was reaching for Wilson's gun during a struggle while the officer was in a police SUV and Brown was standing at the driver's widow, as the Post-Dispatch reported.

"Melinek told The Washington Post that the autopsy facts could be viewed differently. . . ."


Meanwhile, the Standard, Missouri State University's student newspaper, published an expletive and racial slur on its front page. "Quotes were provided to The Standard by MSU students who recently organized a silent demonstration on race relations. The students said the expletive and racial slur were yelled at them by tailgaters during their protest before the homecoming football game," Christine Temple reported Wednesday for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, Mo. Springfield is 3½ hours away from Ferguson.

"University officials said the newspaper staff did not violate any policies by printing the quotes. . . ."


Tracie Powell, This MSU student newspaper cover needed to happen

Jim Romenesko blog: Charleston Daily Mail Editorial Writer Calls Michael Brown an 'Animal' — Then Takes It Back


St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Editor's note on Michael Brown autopsy

Mariah Stewart and Ryan J. Reilly, Huffington Post: As Some Ferguson Protesters Turn On The Media, Others Cover Demonstrations Themselves


1 in 13 Voting-Age Blacks Can't Vote Due to Felonies

"Next Tuesday, tens of millions of Americans will take to the polls to vote on everything from ballot issues to federal, state and local representation," Niraj Chokshi reported Tuesday for the Washington Post. "But millions of voting-age adults will be sitting this one out.


"An estimated 5.85 million Americans won't be able to vote due to prior felony convictions, according to an estimate from the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit think tank. Of those, roughly 44 percent are estimated to be felons who live in the 12 states that still restrict voting rights after sentences have been served, a practice that excludes as many as 1 in 10 voting-age residents of Florida, the state with the highest rates of felon disenfranchisement.

"Such policies have a disproportionate impact on blacks, restricting the vote for roughly 1 in 13 voting-age blacks nationwide.


"But in some states, the rate is much higher. More than 20 percent of voting-age blacks in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia will not be able to vote due to felony convictions — whether or not they have fully served their sentences. In six more states, such policies affect between 10 percent and 20 percent of black adults. . . ."

Mary C. Curtis, Washington Post: Are Democratic candidates who steer clear of Obama pushing away black voters? [Oct. 30]


Spencer Overton, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies: Black Turnout & the 2014 Midterms

Zachary Pullin, Community — and curiosity — reason enough to vote


Freed Journalist Describes Torture by "Band of Sadists"

"American journalist Theo Padnos, who was taken captive in Syria and held for almost two years, has told of his ordeal in a lengthy and graphic New York Times magazine article," Roy Greenslade reported Wednesday for Britain's Guardian newspaper site.


"The freelance writer was abducted in October 2012 by a group linked to al-Qaida and released in August 2014. During his period of incarceration, he was often treated with great cruelty.

"He was routinely kicked and beaten, shocked with a cattle prod, deprived of sleep and poorly fed. He writes: 'I felt I had fallen into the hands of a band of sadists.'


"The torture was aimed at getting him to confess he belonged to the CIA and he 'confessed to stop the pain'. But he refused to convert to Islam. . . ."

Al Jazeera: No Interpol warrant for Al Jazeera journalist

Theo Padnos, New York Times Magazine: My Captivity

Four-Part Video Series Uses Humor for Social Statements

"The New York Times has launched a really cool four-part video series called Off-Color which highlights artists of color who use humor to make smart social statements about the sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious ways that race plays out in America today," Phil Yu wrote Tuesday on his Angry Asian Man blog.


"The series features Hari Kondabolu, Kristina Wong, Issa Rae and Lalo Alcaraz. (I had the honor of being interviewed for Kristina's video.) . . ."

From the series:

"Dating in Los Angeles is not easy. Just ask Kristina Wong, a Chinese-American performance artist and writer who says she wants reparations for 'yellow fever,' a common term for the fetishization of Asian women by white men.


" 'Even in high school or middle school there would be white boys saying I like dating Asian girls because they're more quiet and submissive and sweet,' Ms. Wong said in an interview. 'It's like they're unable to acknowledge that there is something going on and there's a specific reason they are dating all these women as if they were interchangeable.' . . ."

Steve Haruch, NPR "Code Switch": The Struggle Of Being Asian-American For Halloween


Short Takes

Essence magazine has undergone another round of layoffs, a spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday. She conceded "the loss of a few editorial positions" but would not disclose exact numbers or the names of those involved. [Added Oct. 30]


The Lake Worth (Fla.) Herald published an editorial described on Jim Romenesko's media site as "about as racist as you can get." One section reads, "Illegal aliens live in Lake Worth and sponge off the society. They raise the cost of basic services for everyone without contributing themselves. . . . " Editor Mark Easton told Journal-isms by telephone Wednesday that the editorial was behind a paywall but that he could not say more because he was on deadline.

S. Mitra Kalita, ideas editor for Quartz, the Atlantic's digitally native news site, has been promoted to executive editor at large, "with special responsibility for global expansion and Ideas," Chris Roush reported Wednesday for Talking Biz News. "Just ahead of her appointment, Kalita spoke to the World Editors Forum's Julie Posetti at the International Newsroom Summit in Amsterdam," the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers reported Wednesday.


"NPR News will expand coverage of Asia with the opening of a bureau in Seoul next year, to complement the work of bureaus in Islamabad, New Delhi, Shanghai and Beijing," NPR announced on Wednesday. "At a time when other news organizations have reduced international coverage, NPR's 17 foreign news bureaus are covering some of the most important stories of our time, including the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Elise Hu, who covers the intersection of technology and culture for NPR's on-air, online and multimedia platforms, will take on a new role as NPR's Seoul reporter. . . ."

LaSharah Bunting, digital editor on the National Desk at the New York Times, has been promoted to senior editor for digital training and recruitment at the Times, she told social-media colleagues on Monday. "I'm excited to be stepping into a position that allows me to help empower my colleagues and bring in a new generation of Times digital journalists," Bunting wrote.


"Tina Brown Live Media, the event company run by Tina Brown, has announced a new event — The American Justice Summit," Chris O'Shea reported Monday for FishBowlNY. "Vice and The Marshall Project are partnering with Brown on the event, which will 'explore the personal, social, and financial inequities of a prison system.' The free New York event is to feature "Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Orange is The New Black author Piper Kerman, Harry Belafonte, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, and CNN and The New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. . . ."

"Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?Patrick Howell O'Neill reported Tuesday for the Daily Dot. "The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game. There's just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today. . . ."


"'Journalism is my calling, the print media is my struggle and independence is my motto,' says 42-year-old Solange Lusiku Nsimire, a Congolese editor and mother of six," Eleanor Klibanoff reported Monday for NPR. "And it's hard to imagine a more difficult place to be a journalist than the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At least a dozen journalists have been killed since 1992 and there were 90 attacks on journalists in 2012 alone. It's also a dangerous place to be a woman: rape, domestic violence and senseless killings are part of the daily norm in many parts of the country. . . ." Lusiku Nsimire last week won a Courage in Journalism award from the International Women's Media Foundation.

"At least three filmmakers affiliated with public media will receive part of $2 million in grants for documentaries announced today by the MacArthur Foundation," Dru Sefton reported Tuesday for "Chicago-based filmmaker Ines Sommer is getting $150,000 for Count Me In, which follows several residents in a 'participatory budgeting' experiment that gives them direct say over portions of taxpayer spending in the city's budget. Sommer will co-produce the film with WTTW. And Bernardo Ruiz, a producer/director for American Experience who also created The Graduates/Los Graduados for CPB’s American Graduate initiative, is receiving $200,000 for a film about forensic anthropologists investigating three decades of conflict in Latin America. . . ."

Share This Story