Well, this is rather embarrassing then. It has emerged that US authorities in fact did contact Fox News to inform the broadcaster that it had seized the phone records of reporter James Rosen as part of a 2010 investigation, the message just wasn’t passed on by parent company News Corp.
When news of the Rosen subpoena broke this week, Fox told media this week it had not got a notice from the Department of Justice. However, following speculation this weekend that its parent was made aware of the subpoena in 2010, the The Wall Street Journal got confirmation from a News Corp spokesperson, who confirmed that the DoJ made contact in August 2010, 90 days after the records were accessed.
Authorities took action on Rosen — which included reading emails as well as gaining access to phone records — as part of a case built against former State Department contractor Stephen Kim, who stands accused of leaking details of government intelligence on North Korea to the journalist.
Kim is awaiting trial but denies the charges. However, in a further twist, it also emerged that, back in 2010, investigators had processed paperwork that could have seen Rosen face criminal charges for his part in receiving information from Kim. The charges were never formally pressed, however, and it is unclear why documents had been prepared.
Details of the government’s actions were made public by a report from AP this month, and were unsurprisingly met with criticism from media.
Fox Executive Vice President for News Michael Clemente called the 2010 operation “downright chilling”, adding: “We will unequivocally defend [Rosen’s] right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press.”
Steven Aftergood, the Director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, highlighted that no member of the media has ever been included in a criminal investigation such as this.
“Asking for information has never been deemed a crime. It’s a line that has not been crossed up until now,” he said in a Washington Post interview.
In response, the Journal says that Attorney General Eric Holder has promised a full review of the processes, but continues to defend actions taken during the investigation.
While it has been confirmed that the DoJ did contact News Corp/Fox as required over Rosen’s phone records, it is unclear whether it notified either organization of its decision to search his emails.
The messy story has put question marks around President Obama’s commitment to free press, particularly in light of the fact that the unfiled charges against Rosen. Critics have claimed authorities are applying the pressure of criminal suits so as to prevent media operating in the public interest by covering leaks or gathering unauthorized information.
Headline image via Michael Nagle / Getty Images