When the Associated Press (AP) last spring wrangled its scoop about a foiled al-Qaeda plot, administration officials asked it to hold off publishing its piece on account of national security concerns. OK, the AP replied.
Once those national security concerns were “allayed,” the administration still wanted the AP to continue holding off. And here’s where the story gets good. As Carol Leonnig and Julie Tate explain in the Washington Post:
When the journalists rejected a plea to hold off longer, the CIA then offered a compromise. Would they wait a day if AP could have the story exclusively for an hour, with no government officials confirming it for that time?
The reporters left the meeting to discuss the idea with their editors. Within an hour, an administration official was on the line to AP’s offices.
The White House had quashed the one-hour offer as impossible. AP could have the story exclusively for five minutes before the White House made its own announcement. AP then rejected the request to postpone publication any longer.
So it published this piece on May 7, which AP officials believe is at the heart of the Justice Department’s secret subpoena for the wire service’s phone records.
Let’s arrange these facts: The AP does a bunch of shoe-leather national security reporting and nails a big, big exclusive on a foiled terrorist plot. It then plays ball with the administration, agreeing to hold off for national security reasons. Once those considerations are out of the picture, it continues listening to the administration’s requests for other considerations.
Its reward? A towering insult straight from the seat of power. A five-minute exclusive!
No self-respecting editor would have accepted such an outrage. Just think of the expletives that must have been flying around AP newsrooms that day.