Devan Filchak| Ball State University
Months after private phone records of Associated Press journalists were seized in a Department of Justice investigation, some sources still are wary about talking to the respected news agency.
"It is a cliché, but it's true," said Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press. "It's a chilling effect, and people don't want to talk to us." Carroll joined a panel of AP editors at the 80th annual Associated Press Media Editors convention in Indianapolis to discuss the organization's top initiatives.
"It's not just Deep Throat sources putting flower pots on balconies. These are good civil servants who care about the job they do for the government that employs them. They worry that if their phone records show up with a call to a reporter, however benign the topic or ordinary the topic might be, it could harm their careers."
Could it happen again?
"We are unaware of it, but we were unaware of it until after the fact when it happened the first time," she said. "We learned … up to three months after the subpoena was executed. It is possible that another subpoena has been issued but we won't know about it until later."
DOJ guidelines say journalists cannot be labeled as criminal co-conspirators when the government seeks a search warrant for obtaining records, similar to the phone records gathered from the AP earlier this year.
Last May, 21 phone records of Associated Press journalists were seized. AP estimated the conversations of more than 100 reporters and editors were included in the phone records.
Carroll said the telephone companies were told to comply and not tell the news cooperative, and the records were in prosecutors' hands for weeks before the news organization knew about it.
"There were 21 phone numbers including fax machines and the locations of a bureau where one of the reporters at the center of this had not worked in many years," she said. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Carroll and AP CEO Gary Pruitt worked side by side to fight against the actions of the DOJ. Pruitt's background as a First Amendment attorney was crucial in this case, Carroll said.
"(Pruitt) believes deeply in these issues even though he is wearing a much bigger hat now," she said. "To have him as an industry leader on a global scale to be as forceful as he was, really was important for us both in the AP and for the profession at large."
Carroll said the best thing journalists can do, whether they are covering city council meetings or stories on a national or global scale, is to know their rights.
"If you don't understand those laws, you are failing," she said. "You have completely failed as a journalist, because you are completely unequipped to exercise your rights."