ACLU Defends News Organizations For Rejecting Off-The-Record Meeting With Attorney General

Not attending the meeting “[k]ind of forfeits your right [to] gripe,” the Democratic Party’s communications director said. “[T]he suggestion that news organizations somehow give up their right to object by not accepting the invitation is a problem,” an ACLU lawyer responds.

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WASHINGTON — Leading civil liberties groups criticized comments made by the Democratic Party's communications director that media groups refusing to attend an off-the-record meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder are giving up their "right [to] gripe" about the Department of Justice's pursuit of journalists' records under Holder's leadership.

"I think that what the Department of Justice is doing in soliciting comments ... is in principle a good thing, but the suggestion that news organizations somehow give up their right to object by not accepting the invitation is a problem," said Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor at the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office.

After New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson announced the paper would not be attending a meeting with Holder to discuss the DOJ policies for dealing with reporters in leak investigations, Democratic Party communications director Brad Woodhouse tweeted:

Abramson had said in a statement, "We will not be attending the session at DOJ. It isn't appropriate for us to attend an off the record meeting with the attorney general." The Associated Press also will not be attending if the meeting remains off the record.

The ACLU's Rottman defended the news organizations' decisions.

"The notion that because news organizations have off-the-record rules which prevent them from going to a meeting like this in no way impacts the strength of their argument against the Associated Press subpoena," he said. "That's the biggest concern that I see here, that somehow they're giving up their right to complain or object — that's just wrong."

The bottom line, the head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told BuzzFeed, is that "real issues" remain, regardless of how or whether the meeting proceeds.

"Whether or not media organizations choose to send a bureau chief to an off-the-record meeting with the Attorney General, there are still real issues with DOJ practices that need to be addressed and which we hope will be addressed regardless of how the review process initially gets off the ground," RCFP executive director Bruce Brown told BuzzFeed Wednesday evening.

When a person told Woodhouse in response to his initial tweet that "public officials shouldn't request off the record meetins with reporters," Woodhouse replied:

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