Efforts by the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, to smooth American media feathers ruffled by recent revelations of aggressive snooping by the government on reporters hit a snag, as major news organisations turned down an invitation to meet with him.
The outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, Reuters and the Associated Press (AP), said they were unwilling to send participants to meet with Mr Holder so long as he was insisting that the conversations be “off-the-record”.
Mr Holder has come under a barrage of criticism after it emerged he had authorised the seizure of the phone records of AP reporters and editors involved in the reporting of a story about a clandestine US operation to thwart a terror plot in Yemen. In a second instance, a Fox News reporter was named in an affidavit as a possible “co-conspirator” for acquiring leaked information from the State Department concerning sanctions against North Korea.
In the AP case, Mr Holder insisted that the leaks in question had threatened US operatives overseas.
However, the uncovering of the Fox News inquiry seems to have been put him more on the defensive, and President Barack Obama has instructed him to consider an overhaul of procedures to protect press freedom. It was in that context that Mr Holder invited senior editors of to meetings in his office today and tomorrow.
He has not been snubbed by everyone. The editor-in-chief of the Politico website said he would attend. But his counterpart at the Times, Jill Abramson, took the opposite view. “It isn’t appropriate for us to attend an off-the-record meeting with the attorney general,” she countered.