Politico is reporting that the head of the Associated Press, the largest news-service in the US, is saying sources are now refusing to talk to the AP for fear of being outed in the wake of the DoJ wiretapping scandal:
Associated Press president Gary Pruitt on Wednesday slammed the Department of Justice for acting as “judge, jury and executioner” in the seizure of the news organization’s phone records and he said some of the wire service’s longtime sources have clammed up in fear…
Since the disclosure of the DoJ’s subpoena, Pruitt on Wednesday said AP reporters have experienced a chilling effect on newsgathering. Sources are “nervous and anxious” about talking with reporters, he said, and it goes beyond just the AP. “What I learned from our journalists should alarm everyone in this room and should alarm everyone in this country,” he said.
Indeed, the effect was inevitable once it was made clear that the DoJ had been listening to journalist’s phone calls. While the wide-spread use of anonymous sources is on shaky ethical ground, it has also become an unavoidable part of covering Washington D.C. as most congressional staffers — who are the people with the real information, not the House Members or Senators — simply will not talk on the record. This happens particularly because they are generally talking for their principals, but doing so in a way that means Senator X can disavow the comments if he needs to.
It is, then, understandable that those same sources are reluctant to talk to journalists when it’s entirely possible the administration will know from whence those comments came and may use them against their employers.
The problem is, for all the talk of shield laws, the First Amendment admits of no restrictions to the freedom of the press and the administration’s actions in this case are not just a prima facie violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches, but a violation of the spirit of the First.