You know things are really bad when the mainstream press corps trashes the Obama administration—on the record!—for its secrecy, aggressive efforts to control information and hostility towards the media when it exposes information viewed as unfavorable to the president.
This includes an unprecedented number of prosecutions of government sources, seizures of journalists’ records and even criminal investigations of reporters. As a result government sources are afraid to speak to journalists, even if it doesn’t involve sensitive national security issues but rather routine stories that help keep elected officials and government accountable. “There’s no question that sources are looking over their shoulders,” said a senior managing editor at the Associated Press, who added that “sources are more jittery and more standoffish.”
A veteran chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, David E. Sanger says “this is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.” Consider the source; a journalist at a powerful mainstream newspaper well known for its favorable coverage of everything Obama. The surprising lashing by the mainstream media comes this week via a special report on the Obama administration and the press from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
A former executive editor at the Washington Post wrote the analysis, which includes scary details of the Obama administration’s efforts to control and even silence the media. It also offers a forum for some of the nation’s best known journalists and editors to vent about the unprecedented animosity towards the press. The Obama administration is “squeezing the flow of information at several pressure points,” says a former CNN Washington bureau chief who directs the School of Media and Public Affairs at a university. This includes limitations on everyday access necessary for the administration to explain itself and be held accountable.
How bad is it? “The Obama administration is far worse than the Bush administration,” in trying to thwart accountability reporting about government agencies, according to Ellen Weiss, Washington bureau chief for E.W. Scripps newspapers and stations. ABC News White House correspondent Ann Compton, who has been covering presidents since Gerald Ford, reveals in the report that “there is no access to the daily business in the Oval Office, who the president meets with, who he gets advice from.” In fact, Compton said many of Obama’s important meetings with outside figures on issues like health care, immigration, or the economy are not even listed on his public schedule which makes media coverage difficult.
“I think we have a real problem,” said New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane. “Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They’re scared to death. There’s a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It’s having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.”
The Associated Press’s executive editor, Kathleen Carroll, said the report highlights the growing threats to the freedom of the press that’s essential to America’s democracy. “We find we must fight for those freedoms every day as the fog of secrecy descends on every level of government activity,” she said, pointing out the Justice Department’s secret seizure of Associated Press phone records. The AP’s president said it constituted a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather news and even the Obama-loving American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called it an “abuse of power.”
While it was certainly surprising to see mainstream journalists trashing the administration in this manner, the secrecy is old news. Remember how the president promised that he would have the most transparent administration in history? He also said transparency promotes accountability and provides information for people to know what their government is doing. “It’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press,” according to New York Times editor Margaret Sullivan.
Typical of the way government functions, the influential congressional committee formed recently to find ways of reducing the nation’s monstrous budget deficit is doing most of its work in secret.Known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the bipartisan panel was concocted to save the country from the dire financial crisis that has gripped it throughout President Barack Obama’s tenure. By the end of November the 12-member committee—equally split between Senate and House Democrats and Republicans—is supposed to make miraculous recommendations that will then be voted on by the full House and Senate under special rules.The goal is to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade. But the “Super Committee,” as it’s frequently called, is conducting most of its businesses behind closed doors even though the fruit of its labor will have a profound effect on the entire country. In fact, the panel’s Democratic chairwoman, Washington State Senator Patty Murray, has asked her constituents for ideas that could be “implemented by the Joint Select Committee to help move our country in the right direction.”“At this critical time for our country your involvement is important to ensuring that we can find common ground solutions that work for real families,” Senator Murray writes in a letter pleading for the public’s input. …”I want to hear from you,” she stresses.But she doesn’t want Americans, or fellow lawmakers who don’t sit on her committee, to know what’s going on behind the scenes. In a mainstream newspaper story about the panel’s secrecy Murray claims it must deliberate in private so members can be “open and honest with each other.” Someone needs to tell the senator that openness is what keeps government honest.Senator Murray offered a rather amusing anecdote to justify the committee’s secrecy: “I remember well one time when I was very little and I was fighting with my brother every other minute, and my mother put us in a back room and said, ‘Don’t come out until you got it figured out.’ We stared at each other for a while, but we came our friends.”The touching childhood tale failed to convince several lawmakers who don’t sit on the panel. One U.S. Senator, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, insisted “the American people deserve to know what is happening in this committee,” adding that the “negotiations should be fully open. We don’t get a better result for the people of this country when things are done behind closed doors.”Another lawmaker, Utah Senator Mike Lee, said he’s not aware of any other legislative committee responsible for matters of such “profound sweeping importance” operating in secret. Utah Senator Dean Heller has coined the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction the “super-secret committee.”
In an act of retaliation, the Obama Administration demoted a senior career employee at the Department of Homeland Security for blowing the whistle on political appointees who illegally interfered with public records requests.This certainly contradicts President Obama’s repeated promise to run the most transparent administration in history. Americans have already seen many examples of how the administration has violated its own transparency guarantees but this case, exposed by a national news organization, ranks among the more atrocious examples.It involves a veteran Homeland Security lawyer (Catherine Papoi) who worked as a deputy unit chief in charge of handling public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Papoi told the agency’s inspector general that hundreds of public records requests had been illegally sidetracked to Obama advisers because the documents were considered politically sensitive.The administration officials delayed release and demanded information about the watchdog groups, journalists and others requesting the materials. If a member of congress requested documents, Homeland Security employees were ordered to specify if it was a Republican or Democrat who put in the order.Papoi, who is currently on leave, flat out said that political appointees broke the law by knowingly and intentionally delaying and obstructing the release of agency records under FOIA. Anyone who has ever requested records from the government, as Judicial Watch regularly does, knows well that this sort of stonewalling happens all the time even though it’s illegal.So is retaliating against whistleblowers that expose wrongdoing, although that happens routinely as well. In a letter to the Obama Administration, the chairman of the House committee that investigates government fraud, waste and abuse accuses it of retaliating against Papoi and warns that “obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime.”The hard-hitting letter urges Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to remind employees about their rights and whistleblower protections and to make agency managers aware of the consequences for retaliation against witnesses who furnish information to congress. Not surprisingly, the agency denies any wrongdoing.