Embarrassing. The Huffington Post, an overtly liberal outfit, claims it’ll join the Times in boycotting the meeting, and yet Washington’s paper of record can’t similarly muster the will to resist the DOJ’s surreal demand for opacity while discussing transparency?
Kudos to WaPo’s Erik Wemple for reporting this out, knowing that he’s not endearing himself to his boss in doing so:
Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, said, “I prefer that any meeting be on the record. That said, journalists routinely participate in off-the-record sessions, whether they prefer those conditions or not, and then continue to report on events. I am going to this meeting in order to represent our interests as journalists and to raise our concerns. I’ll also listen to what the Attorney General has to say. I trust that our journalists will report on this as vigorously as they would any other subject.”…
Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief of the Huffington Post, said, “Off-the-record would not fly. … I don’t need to go in there with a tape recorder and wiretap the meeting. But I imagine I’m free to talk about what’s said in there.”…
What will likely happen here is a classic and most absurd game: Attendees at the meeting — both media reps and Justice Department officials — will give rundowns to reporters who were not in attendance, likely on background (i.e., for publication but without their names attached). News pieces will be pieced together on such sourcing. The low point: Reporters could well end up quoting their own bosses as “sources.” A total embarrassment, in other words.
An official in the Most Transparent Justice Department Evah told Wemple that they want the meetings off the record because, quote, “This format will best facilitate the candid, free-flowing discussions we hope to have in order to bring about meaningful engagement.” I’m curious to know which “candid” remarks Holder feels comfortable making with the digital recorders switched off but not on. Is his big charm offensive designed to make amends to the media or to the public? There’s been lots of lip service paid over the past few weeks about the public’s right to know what its government is up to; the deeper injury in the Rosen/AP probes supposedly isn’t to the media itself but to the public’s ability to hold its elected officials accountable. If Holder “regrets” how those probes were handled, then his remorse should be expressed to the public at large. By calling for an off-the-record meeting, he’s indicating that he sees this as more between him and the journalistic guild than between him and the public. It’s uncomfortably clubby, as if he’s trying to schmooze the editors with an intimate apology that flatters their egos rather than articulate the Department’s policy going forward. And it makes perfect sense if you assume that his real goal here isn’t to revamp the DOJ’s protocols for investigating leaks but rather to grovel to the point that the media backs off him before the “Holder must go” meme starts to take hold among the wider public. These meetings are all about shaping elite opinion, which in turn will shape public opinion. And the way to influence elites is to flatter them with special access. O prizes secrecy, but he’s willing to include big-media editors in that secrecy if it gets them to ease up on him.
Exit question via Michael Gerson: Why does Holder still have a job?
Update: The AP’s out.
“We believe the meeting should be on the record and we have said that to the Attorney General’s office. If it is on the record, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll will attend. If it is not on the record, AP will not attend and instead will offer our views on how the regulations should be updated in an open letter,” AP spokesperson Erin Madigan said in a statement sent to POLITICO. “We would expect AP attorneys to be included in any planned meetings between the Attorney General’s office and media lawyers on the legal specifics.”