"It appears that they are recognizing that the very broad subpoena of the AP's phone records was too aggressive," said Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland who until recently was head of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. "They also recognized that they are not going to prosecute a reporter for basic newsgathering activities unless they have reason to believe the reporter is involved in the alleged breaking of the law. That has not been all that clear in the past."
She added: "The devil will be in the details. They left themselves a little bit of wiggle room."
David Schulz, an attorney who represented the AP in the case, called the new guidelines "a major positive development."
"Just about everything the attorney general can do unilaterally to tighten these guidelines, he has," Schulz said.
Erin Madigan White, the AP's senior media relations manager, said the news cooperative "is gratified that the Department of Justice took our concerns seriously. The description of the new guidelines released today indicates they will result in meaningful, additional protection for journalists. We'll obviously be reviewing them more closely when the actual language of the guidelines is released, but we are heartened by this step."
Holder met Friday with Obama in the Oval Office to discuss the changes, and White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said the president agrees with Holder's recommendations and considers the report an important step toward the proper balance between national security and press freedoms.
Lehrich said Obama had directed his team to explore alternative approaches to cracking down on leaks, such as revoking security clearances or other punishments. "Pursuing a criminal investigation and prosecution is not always the most efficient and effective way to address leaks of classified information," he said.
Holder also endorsed the proposal for a shield law that would protect reporters. "While these reforms will make a meaningful difference, there are additional protections that only Congress can provide," he said. "For that reason, we continue to support the passage of media shield legislation."