OCTOBER 11, 2013
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.
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