Saturday, May 20, 2006

Gonzales defends move against reporters

It's hard to imagine any top officials from the Bush administration sitting down for a meeting with the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle. But one advantage of being owned by a chain like Hearst Corp. is that if your reporters at one paper can't get the story, maybe the sister paper can. That's what happened Friday when U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sat down with the editors of the Houston Chronicle, a paper that has been more friendly with the president and Gonzales, both of whom are from Texas. But the editors in Houston hit Gonzales with questions about why his justice department was attempting to force two reporters at the smaller Chronicle to testify about Barry Bonds' steroid use or face jail time. "We know the importance and appreciate and respect the importance of the press to do its job," Gonzales said. "But we also can't have a situation where someone who does a terrible crime can't be prosecuted because of information that's in the hands of the reporter." Apparently in an interview later, SF Chron editor Phil Bronstein offered this response: "I'm not a lawyer, but does this really involve 'a terrible crime'? ... Is that crime sufficiently terrible to remove from the press our ability to provide information that has clearly been valuable to the public, to professional sports, to high school and college athletes and their families? While Mr. Gonzales says he doesn't have a problem, we have a problem with a Justice Department that wants to make the press an investigative arm of prosecutors." (The Houston paper ran the SF Chron's story on the meeting.)

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