Skip to main content

Press Groups Press Attorney General Barr on Process for Subpoenaing Journalists

A coalition of press freedom groups has asked Attorney General William Barr to reject a proposed revision to guidelines on getting access to journalist's records.

In a letter to Barr, the groups, which include the National Press Club and Free Press, cited a story in The Hill that Justice was proposing to lower the threshold for requesting subpoenas for journalist's records, including eliminating the need to alert a media organization that a subpoena was coming.

"The proposed revision would have chilling implications for the state of the free press in the U.S., making it easier for the Department of Justice to use law enforcement tools that are currently considered only “extraordinary measures” in the existing guidelines," they told Barr.

The letter comes against a backdrop of the President's attacks on journalists and threats to sue them or investigate them.

"We hope you will agree that protecting the public’s right to know is something that transcends political differences," they said.

It is hard to predict where Barr would come down on the issue.

Related: Barr Confirmed as New AG

Barr at his confirmation, under questioning from now-presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), declined to rule out jailing reporters "for doing their jobs." He said he could conceive of situations where as a last resort and where a news organization had "run through a red flag" and where "putting out that stuff will hurt the country," a journalist could be held in contempt. Klobuchar said she would follow up with him on that point.

But as a member of the Time Warner board. Barr filed an affidavit in the AT&T-Time Warner legal case raising questions about whether there were political motivations behind Justice's decision to sue to block the merger with Time Warner. The President had suggested as a candidate that his administration would oppose a deal that make CNN parent Time Warner more powerful. The President has said CNN and its reporters are enemies of the people and in league with his political opponents.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.