This is from the president who ran on promises to create “unprecented” openness and transparency in government.
The report, The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America, was penned by Leonard Downie Jr., former Washington Post executive editor and current Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It is based on interviews with 30 experienced journalists who work in Washington, DC.
These testimonies collectively paint a picture of an administration that keeps a strangle-hold on access to information at all levels. “The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate,” writes Downie. “The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent.”
Inheriting a secretive government post-9/11, Obama pursued more closed policies, rebuffing his promises of transparency, the report finds. Six government workers and two contractors have been prosecuted with felony charges under the Espionage since 2009 for allegedly leaking information to the media, with more prosecutions in the pipelines. There have only been three similar prosecutions in all prior administrations.
“I think we have a real problem,” said The New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane. “Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They’re scared to death.
In at least two of these cases, journalists’ communications were seized by the department of justice. Broader awareness of government surveillance, in part thanks to the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has created a climate of fear for journalists. “I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity.
Obama’s ‘Insider Threat’ program, engineered to crack down on government leaks by encouraging employees to spy on each other, has created a “climate of fear” about openness within the government, the report charges.
Journalists are shunted to media spokespeople only to be met with hostility and unresponsiveness when they request information. David E. Sanger, chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times, declared when interviewed for the report: “This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
The report charges that, in an darkly ironic twist, the president that promised unprecedented openness is overseeing an unprecedented nondisclosure. The report draws on a previous quote by The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who wrote, “it’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.”
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