Sessions Can't Promise Not Jailing Reporters For 'Doing Their Jobs'

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a Senate Judiciary hearing panel Wednesday (Oct. 18) that he could not promise "not to put reporters in jail for doing their jobs."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) had asked him that question directly, saying the issue was an important one to her, and following his answer saying it was particularly important given President Donald Trump's recent attacks on the news media related to FCC licenses.

Sessions said "he did not know that he could make a blanket commitment to that effect," and didn't make such a commitment. He did say that Justice had not taken any "aggressive action against the media at this point," but added that there were matters "that involve the most serious national security issues that put our country at risk [the President has made no secret he wants to go after leakers] and we will utilize the authorities that we have legally and constitutionally if we have to."

There is no federal shield law, but Sessions said Justice always tries to find an alternative to "directly confronting" media persons," but said that is not a "total blanket protection."

Klobuchar did say that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had given a "positive" statement on the license-related issue. Pai said this week that the RCC can't pull the license of a TV station over the content of its news, though many Democrats did not seem assuaged.

"We are just really concerned because of the President's recent communications about FCC licensing with some of the media content and we are working with the FCC on that and did get a positive answer from chairman Pai," Klobuchar told Sessions. 

John Eggerton

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.