Making Sense of the Media
6:16 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

The Chilling Effect of the A.P. Phone Records Case

The revelation that the Justice Department got a hold of phone records at the Associated Press in an effort to track down a leak has already had a chilling effect on the news media.

That's the conclusion of Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense Making Project."

"If you're working at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) or the Department of Agriculture and you think there are stories that the public ought to know, you are very unlikely to call a journalist right now," said McBride.

That's because -- in the hunt for a the source of a leak that it considered a threat to national security and American lives --  the Justice Department managed to secretly subpoena and obtain lots of phone records from the AP's Washington, DC and New York offices, as well as for several reporters.

"The Associated Press never had the ability to argue against the scope of the subpoena," McBride explained. "Most of the time, when the government goes after a journalist's phone records or anything else involving a journalist, the journalism organization gets the opportunity to respond and go in front of a judge and say we don't think this is appropriate. The AP never got that shot on this particular story."

McBride said reporters are already responding in some extreme ways to assure sources that their identity will be protected -- like buying  disposable phones to keep records from being tracked.

"They're even giving disposable phones to their sources to use,"  said McBride.