Attorney General Garland makes this move after openly supporting the importance of codifying protections for a free and independent press in a democratic society. In June, speaking at a press conference, Garland told reporters he would continue working to end the Trump-era practice of punishing and threatening free speech, but that he believed that Congress needed to create legislation that would allow such protections to endure. “I personally will support working with Congress to develop legislation that would make protections for obtaining the press’ records part of the legislation.” That legislation has still yet to materialize, but this is an important step in the right direction.
In a memo sent to all DOJ employees, Garland also promised that the new guidelines would be followed up: The “Criminal Division’s Office of Enforcement Operations will provide comprehensive training across the Department regarding the new policy’s substance, standards, approval levels, and consultation requirements,” he wrote. What this move does is create more meaningful steps for federal law enforcement to take and consider when they try to get private information from the press. It also expands the definition of what is protected to include reporters being able to freely do their job of actually investigating matters of national importance. According to The New York Times, the expansion of Garland’s new policy came after working with various news organizations to discuss what is both reasonable and most important to a free press.
Those conversations led to several adjustments about potentially critical issues, like how “news gathering” is defined. According to participants, the Justice Department originally intended to define it in a way that was limited to the passive receipt of government secrets. But the final version now covers the act of pursuing information.
The regulation defines “news gathering” as “the process by which a member of the news media collects, pursues, or obtains information or records for purposes of producing content intended for public dissemination,” including “classified information” from confidential sources.
No surprisingly, all of those right-wing and libertarian pretend-left-wing types who hide behind the intellectually vacuous “First Amendment warriors” banner seem to have forgotten to cheer this very clear win for the First Amendment. I guess they were too busy salivating over the chance to make a ton more money licking a new billionaire’s feet?