Statement of Reporters Committee's Bruce Brown on Justice Department investigations of journalists

Press Release | May 21, 2013

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce Brown issued the following statement today following revelations that the U.S. Department of Justice executed a search warrant for e-mail communications between Fox News reporter James Rosen and a confidential source. An affidavit in support of the warrant, filed by the government, alleged that there was probable cause to believe that Rosen had acted “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.”

“The Justice Department’s decision to treat routine newsgathering efforts as evidence of criminality is extremely troubling and corrodes time-honored understandings between the public and the government about the role of the free press,” Brown said.

“It is not enough to say, as the government has, that there is a difference between filing an affidavit stating ‘that there is probable cause to believe that someone has committed a crime and charging the person with that crime.’ This explanation does not erase the sworn statement the government made to a federal judicial officer in order to obtain a search warrant for a reporter’s confidential communications with a source.

“This important issue requires more thorough analysis than can be done on the spot. But this much is certain: If there was ever any doubt that a war on leaks could not be conducted without a war on the press and the public’s interest in the free flow of information, the government seems to have answered that question for us.”

The Reporters Committee also sent a letter May 14 to the Justice Department, co-signed by 50 news organizations, calling on the government to return and destroy all copies of secretly subpoenaed phone records from The Associated Press during the course of another leak investigation. In addition, the letter asked for an explanation of the DOJ’s overbroad search and called for renewed vigor in the fight for a federal shield law to protect journalists’ confidential sources.

About the Reporters Committee:

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Release: Media organizations call on Justice Department to mitigate damage from broad subpoena of journalists' phone records

· Brief: Media coalition letter to the Department of Justice regarding AP subpoena