NBC's Brokaw on AG Holder Targeting Journalists: First Amendment 'Not Unconditional'

On Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie asked special correspondent Tom Brokaw about his recent comment that the press "has to be careful about having a glass jaw" when it comes to the Obama Justice Department investigating reporters: "...you made a remark that journalists...shouldn't have what you called a 'glass jaw' when it comes to some of these investigations, citing the First Amendment and threats to the First Amendment." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Brokaw stood by his statement: "Well, the First Amendment is a critically important part of the Constitution. It is not unconditional, obviously. Any number of us over the years have been in dialogues and in conversations with senior government officials about when something can be disclosed and under what circumstances. And it's kind of case by case. It's not unconditional."

Guthrie began the exchange by noting: "Eric Holder under fire for some fairly aggressive prosecutions involving the subpoenaing of records of reporters, and in some cases tracking their movements. There are calls, again, for him to resign." The headline on screen read: "AG Under Fire."

Turning to Brokaw, Guthrie wondered: "The heat is always on this attorney general, but do you think this is a more serious threat to his [job]?" Brokaw started off critical: "Well, I think there's a lot of explaining that the Justice Department has to do." However, he quickly equivocated: "On the other hand, this is a complicated case, the case involving the Fox News reporter."

Brokaw declared: "I think that the Justice Department owes the press and the country an explanation of why they felt it was necessary to prosecute it. And that's not been very forthcoming." He then worried about the scandal possibly helping the GOP: "Obviously the Republicans are taking full political advantage of all of this."


Here is a transcript of the May 30 exchange:

7:12AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And now to Washington, where as we just mentioned the heat is on Attorney General Eric Holder. It's just one of the controversies swirling around the White House these days. Let's turn to Tom Brokaw, NBC News special correspondent. Tom, good morning.

TOM BROKAW: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: AG Under Fire; Brokaw on Growing Pressure on Eric Holder]

GUTHRIE: I know you've got a special on the Military Channel, we want to talk about that in a moment. But let's talk about what's happening in Washington. Eric Holder under fire for some fairly aggressive prosecutions involving the subpoenaing of records of reporters, and in some cases tracking their movements. There are calls, again, for him to resign. The heat is always on this attorney general, but do you think this is a more serious threat to his?

BROKAW: Well, I think there's a lot of explaining that the Justice Department has to do. On the other hand, this is a complicated case, the case involving the Fox News reporter. Because it was a highly secretive intelligence report that he got very early, at a time when the – when the United States government was trying to deal with the reality of what was going on in North Korea.

At the same time, I think that the Justice Department owes the press and the country an explanation of why they felt it was necessary to prosecute it. And that's not been very forthcoming. Obviously the Republicans are taking full political advantage of all of this. I don't think the meeting today should be off the record. I think if it's worth knowing about, let's put it on the record.

GUTHRIE: You're referring to this meeting that the Attorney General has called with basically the bureau chiefs of major news organizations. Some news organizations have said, "If it's off the record, we won't go," others have said, "We will go."

BROKAW: Yeah. I think you should insist that it go on the record. And by the end of the day, it may be on the record because of the pressure that is being applied. The New York Times prominent among the institutions that said, "We're not going to be in an off-the-record session. If we need to know about it, it ought to be in the sunshine."

GUTHRIE: And very quickly, you made a remark that journalists, on the other hand, shouldn't have what you called a "glass jaw" when it comes to some of these investigations, citing the First Amendment and threats to the First Amendment.

BROKAW: Well, the First Amendment is a critically important part of the Constitution. It is not unconditional, obviously. Any number of us over the years have been in dialogues and in conversations with senior government officials about when something can be disclosed and under what circumstances. And it's kind of case by case. It's not unconditional. So I don't know enough entirely about this case, but I do think that it ought to be discussed out in the public.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC