The Department of Justice will review its rules on how far it can punish reporters who divulge secretive information that is given to them from anonymous government sources, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Friday.
Sessions told a room full of reporters at a press conference today that he may go after reporters if they refuse to name their sources.
Sessions tells room of reporters he may make it easier to jail them if they don't reveal sources, leaves without taking any press questions.
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) August 4, 2017
“We respect the important role the press plays and we’ll give them respect, but [freedom of the press is] not unlimited,” Sessions explained. Sessions went on to say that the media “cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press’ role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the Armed Forces and all law-abiding Americans.”
The freedoms that are granted to the press are expansive, a decision made early on in the nation’s earliest years when the Bill of Rights were added to the Constitution. The First Amendment specifically lays out that, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Subsequent caselaw over the course of the nation’s history have similarly defended the press’s right to publish information revealed to them by anonymous sources inside the walls of government.
And for the most part, the media have stringent rules on how to report using anonymous sources. Reuters news agency, for example, strictly states that they use “anonymous sources when we believe they are providing accurate, reliable and newsworthy information that we could not obtain any other way,” and that any story they publish with anonymous sources should “normally have two or three sources for such information.”
National Public Radio has similar rules: “Before we rely on information from anonymous sources, we press them hard on exactly what they know and how they know it — and we press them hard for as detailed a description as possible of who they are and their motivation (if any) to use in our reports.”
Sessions cites national security concerns for why his department will target journalists, but it’s unclear how citing such sources has hurt national security.
“No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence … with foreign leaders,” he said, likely alluding to embarrassing conversations between President Donald Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia.
The Trump administration has had a very adversarial role with the press since the beginning. A reporter was arrested, for example, for trying to ask Health and Human Services Director Tom Price a question earlier this year.
As the press conference ended, one reporter asked the Attorney General, “do you plan to prosecute journalists?” Sessions did not respond.