Ap Chief Calls Phone Records Seizure "Unconstitutional"
In perhaps the strongest condemnation ever delivered by the Association Press against an action by a U.S. administration, the AP's president and CEO on Sunday called the seizure of AP phone records last year unconstitutional and maintained that the action has already had chilling consequences for press freedom. Appearing on CBS's Face the Nation, the AP's Gary Pruitt said, I really do not know what their motive is. I know what the message being sent is: It's that if you talk to the press, we are going to go after you. The records' seizure was apparently triggered by an exclusive AP report about the CIA smashing a terrorist plot by an Al Qaeda group in Yemen to develop an improved version of the so-called underwear bomb that failed to detonate on a flight in 2009. (The AP has acknowledged that it held up the story for several days following government requests for it to do so.) The Justice Department presumably seized the phone records in order to trace the phone numbers of persons the AP reporters were contacting before the report appeared. We don't question their right to conduct these sorts of investigations, Pruitt said. We just think they went about it the wrong way. So sweeping, so secretly, so abusively and harassingly and overbroad that it constitutes -- that it is --an unconstitutional act. Pruitt maintained that the government's action has already impacted reporters' work. Already officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of news gathering are already saying to us that they are a little reluctant to talk to us. They fear that they will be monitored by the government. The end result, he said, could be that the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know. And that's not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was unsympathetic, telling the AP that the government's investigation was needed because national security leaks, of course, can get our agents overseas killed. However, Simon Dumenco, a media columnist for Advertising Age called the revelations a story that will haunt the Obama administration forever.