CPJ board protests secret seizure of AP phone records

May 21, 2013

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

Via fax

Dear Attorney General Holder and Deputy Attorney General Cole:

The Committee to Protect Journalists was founded 32 years ago to fight for the rights of journalists around the world and defend their ability to report the news without fear of reprisal. Throughout our history our work has exposed abuses committed against frontline journalists covering conflict or working in repressive societies.

Our board of directors rarely has seen the need to raise its collective voice against U.S. government actions that threaten newsgathering. Today, however, we do see that need: We write you to vigorously protest the secret seizing of phone records of The Associated Press. The overly broad scope of the secret subpoena and the lack of notification to the AP by the Justice Department represent a damaging setback for press freedom in the United States. 

We share the concerns of the AP, as expressed in a letter sent to you by President and CEO Gary Pruitt, and join the organization in demanding the confiscated materials be returned and the originals destroyed. (We note, for your information, that AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll is vice chairman of CPJ’s board of directors).

The actions of your department undermine press freedom in this country. Just as troubling, they set a terrible example for the rest of the world, where governments routinely justify intervention in the media by citing national security.

We note, for example, that President Obama met Thursday with Prime Minister Erdoğan of Turkey, where at least 47 journalists–more than any country in the world–are jailed, mostly on national security-related charges. In meetings with his counterparts from repressive countries, President Obama should be able to press these issues and point to the United States as a country that has not sacrificed its deeply rooted commitment to press freedom in the name of national security. Sadly, the Justice Department’s actions make it more difficult for the president to make that case.

We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that the press is able to carry out its critical function without further unnecessary government intrusion. We ask that the confiscated phone records be returned to the AP and that you take action to guarantee that any future efforts to obtain phone records or other information essential to newsgathering is communicated to the news organization in advance so that the action can be challenged in court as justice demands.


Sandra Mims Rowe
CPJ Chairman

Andy Alexander

Franz Allina

Christiane Amanpour
ABC News/CNN International

Terry Anderson
CPJ Honorary Chairman

Tom Brokaw
NBC News, CPJ Advisory Board

John S. Carroll

Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The Washington Post

Sheila Coronel
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Gerry Fabrikant
The New York Times

Josh Friedman
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Anne Garrels

Arianna Huffington
AOL Huffington Post Media Group

Steven Isenberg
CPJ Advisory Board

Jonathan Klein
Getty Images

Jane Kramer
The New Yorker

Mhamed Krichen

Lara Logan
CBS News

Rebecca MacKinnon

David Marash
CPJ Advisory Board

Kati Marton

Michael Massing

Victor Navasky
The Nation

Andres Oppenheimer
The Miami Herald

Clarence Page
Chicago Tribune

Erwin Potts
CPJ Advisory Board

Gene Roberts
Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

María Teresa Ronderos

David Schlesinger

Paul Steiger
ProPublica, CPJ Advisory Board

Jacob Weisberg
The Slate Group

Mark Whitaker

Matt Winkler
Bloomberg News