White House v. Watchdogs

White House v. Watchdogs

A damning new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists raises alarm about the press under Obama.

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On October 10, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) unveiled a grim assessment of press freedom during President Obama’s tenure. Far from fulfilling promises to improve transparency, it concluded, Obama has presided over an unprecedented campaign to contain leaks and control media coverage of government operations.

The fact that the CPJ issued the report at all underscores how hostile official policy has been to journalists under Obama. While the CPJ has reported on press freedoms around the world since the early 1980s, this is its first “comprehensive report” focused on the United States. Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, who wrote the report, told The Nation he was most surprised by the unanimity among reporters as they detailed the ways this administration has made their jobs more difficult. The administration’s “war on leaks and its determined efforts to control information that the news media needs to hold the government accountable for its actions are without equal since the Nixon administration,” he said at a press conference.

“What’s significant here is the very sophisticated, very successful, very determined way they’ve gone about doing this,” Downie told The Nation. “Most administrations aren’t very successful. This one has been very tightly disciplined.”

Among the most egregious actions cited in the report are the prosecution of eight government employees or contractors under the 1917 Espionage Act, more than twice as many as all previous administrations combined; the aggressive pursuing of leaks via secret subpoenas and through a program requiring federal employees to monitor one another for signs of unauthorized disclosures; and general hostility to press inquiries.

The NSA’s surveillance programs raise other questions. Although there are no known instances of the NSA spying on reporters, Downie said that revelations that the agency collects metadata made reporters more fearful that their activities are being monitored, creating a chilling effect. To read the report, visit the CPJ website at cpj.org.

Robert Scheer looks at leakers and the government’s selective prosecution of them.

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