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Attorney General Eric Holder (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

On Tuesday night, Fox News’s Kimberly Guilfoyle appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” and outlined another tick in the James Rosen-Fox News-Stephen Kim tick-tock: “But, also, James Rosen, I e-mailed with him tonight. And he told me that even his parents’ home phone records in Staten Island were taken,” said Guilfoyle.

Then, last night, host Bill O’Reilly circled back to this dimension of the story: “The Rosen thing is ridiculous. … And for them
to go after his private e-mails and his parents’ phone lines….”

Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren headlined a blog post with this chilling notion: “DON’T CALL FNC’s JAMES ROSEN’S PARENT TO WISH HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY or HAPPY FATHER’S DAY or even HELLO UNLESS YOU WANT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUSPICIOUS OF YOU”

Those claims stretch things a touch. Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a statement seeking to correct misguided reporting on the various Justice Department leak investigations. One passage said this: “We did not wiretap the phones of any reporter or news organization. Nor did we monitor or track the phone calls of any reporter’s parents.”

So what’s the skinny here?

Have a look at the Justice Department’s discovery document in the case. It identifies a wide range of documents and phone numbers gathered in the investigation. One of those numbers is in the 718 area code and has been identified by Fox News as belonging to Rosen’s parents. For that number, the document cites “subscriber records.” Such records mainly identify the name of the owner of a given telephone number. “Call detail” records, on the other hand, provide lists of incoming and outgoing calls.

In fairness to Fox, some of their reports handled with matter with precision. Sean Hannity said last night on his show, for example:

Now newly uncovered court documents from 2011 show that the DOJ seized phone records that match up to many Fox News hard lines and cell phones, including lines that run to our workspace at the White House, the Pentagon, State Department, also lines linked to Fox News management. Now, that’s not all. According to the documents, the Justice Department also asked questions about the phone lines of James Rosen’s parents. This all comes after Rosen was accused in an affidavit of being a, quote, “possible criminal co-conspirator” for his role in publishing sensitive security information.

Details aside: When a leak investigation extends to the parents of a reporter in any way, it feels creepy. It feels like a moment of executive overreach.

When asked about the whole affair, Regina Rosen, James’s mom, told the Erik Wemple Blog, “All I can say is I’m very very proud of my son, who has wonderful accomplishments. I really don’t know what to say to you. We’re just these two little people in Staten Island,” she added of herself and her husband, Myron Rosen.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.