Attorney General Eric Holder (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

On “The O’Reilly Factor” the other night, Fox News contributor Bernard Goldberg expressed a theory as to why the Justice Department sought phone and e-mail records from Fox News reporter James Rosen in connection with a national security leak regarding North Korea. Here’s Goldberg:

This administration, from the president on down to his top political cronies, have waged a war for years. For years, they’ve waged a war on Fox News. They have tried to tell the American people this is not a legitimate news organization, that [it] is pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican National Party. Now I don’t have any smoking-gun memos, but I don’t think it’s some tremendous leap to say that they went after James Rosen because he works at Fox, in a way that they would have never gone after him if his name were Brian Williams. Not that Brian Williams will ever uncover anything like that. But the media hasn’t really played that angle up to the extent that I think it’s a legitimate story.

Nor does the Erik Wemple have any smoking-gun memos. And talking about the possible motivations of the federal government is always a tricky matter. Yet one lesson has emerged from the past 10 days of non-stop Justice Department-snooping coverage: If this was in any way aimed at Fox News, it was a massive failure.

Opinions expressed on Fox News quite often condemn the Associated Press and the New York Times. They’re liberal media outlets, we hear — cheerleaders for the Obama administration. That said, they’re both long-established news organizations that do unmistakably groundbreaking work on national security on law enforcement, two areas in which Fox News has sought to become a player. By getting lumped in with the AP — the subject of a wide-ranging secret subpoena — and the New York Times — also an involuntary participant in such cases — Fox News has acquired insta-gravitas in this area.

As Fox News host after Fox News host pronounces that Fox News is in this exclusive snooped-upon club, you can nearly hear the high-fives traded in the sets and executive offices.

A central component of Fox News Pride is hard news. Executives and anchors alike emphasize that the network’s programming is far from a ’round-the-clock right-wing monologue, and an Erik Wemple Blog audit of Fox daytime coverage confirms that contention. The federal court case involving Rosen advances this storyline, depicting the reporter rooting around for sensitive documents and breaks that’ll get him ahead of his competitors. It outlines various communications between Rosen and State Department security adviser Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.

Certain critics have taken shots at the reportorial tactics deployed by Rosen and described in depth in those documents. Reuters’s Jack Shafer, for instance, condemned him as follows:

Rosen’s journalistic technique … leaves much to be desired. He would have been less conspicuous had he walked into the State Department wearing a sandwich board lettered with his intentions to obtain classified information and then blasted an air horn to further alert authorities to his business. For example, one data point investigators used to connect Rosen with his alleged source, Kim, was the visitor’s badge the reporter wore when calling on the State Department offices. According to security records, Rosen and his source left the building within one minute of each other and then returned only several minutes apart inside the half-hour. A few hours later that day (June 11, 2009), Rosen’s secret-busting story was published.

Even teenagers practice better tradecraft than this when deceiving parents.

Court records brought to light this line from Rosen to Kim: “Let’s break some news, and expose muddle-headed policy when we see it — or force the administration’s hand to go in the right direction, if possible.” Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher found cause for shame right there: “Wait, what? Is that what a News reporter is supposed to do, force the administration’s hand to guide American foreign policy to the reporter’s whim? Separate and apart from the DOJ investigation, this email seems to indicate that James Rosen is not just a News reporter, but an activist intent on pushing his own agenda, with the stated goal of manipulating U.S. foreign policy.”

No question that Rosen could have done more to protect his source — obviously. And “let’s break some news” is unquestionably the cheesiest exhortation ever deployed by a national security reporter in Washington — don’t need to fact-check that one.

Those considerations notwithstanding, the commentariat has viewed Rosen’s work as journalistic enterprise, and Fox’s stature grows with the utterances of each supportive pundit. Today the network took another step forward, joining with the AP, the New York Times, CNN and others in stiff-arming Attorney General Eric Holder’s off-the-record meetings. The only risk: If it keeps this up, it might just merge into the mainstream media!

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