Even during a Face the Nation appearance Sunday, AP President Gary Pruitt described the AP story as the United States thwarting “an al Qaida plot to place a bomb on an airliner” and Carney as being “misleading to the American public.”
From the start, the AP placed the plot in the wrong context.
Responding after the AP story, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan held a media backgrounder to reassure the public that the United States was somehow “in control” of the situation. That triggered other media inquiries, which led to the administration explaining the Saudi double agent and other details. The authorized leak was to control political damage.
It was inevitable that the leak to the AP would generate an FBI probe. Given past leak investigations in the Bush and Obama administrations, journalists at the AP and elsewhere know they could face scrutiny. Like it or not, they are part of a crime. The leaker or leakers had taken an oath under the threat of prosecution to protect the information.
The current probe, after almost a year of exhausting other avenues, followed Justice Department guidelines and issued grand jury subpoenas for AP phone records. Did they overreach? There were five reporters and one editor listed on the initial story working out of different AP offices.
Should the AP have been told in advance so it could try to quash the subpoenas? It could have delayed the inquiry for years.
Having found my phone records caught up in criminal and civil case probes, such actions from government officials should not be a surprise.
But how many times can the media claim such an action is “chilling sources?” That was a claim during the Valerie Plame case under the Bush administration and repeatedly invoked as the Obama Justice Department has pursued leakers.
The risk of breaking the law apparently didn’t chill those who leaked the information to the AP.
This is not a whistleblower case. There are no heroes here, and the press was not protecting individuals trying to expose government malfeasance.
Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post and writes the Fine Print column.