March 25, 2014

AP and Politico Both Sleep as Risen Calls Obama Admin ‘Greatest Enemy of Press Freedom’

A search on the name of James Risen (not in quotes) returns nothing relevant at the Associated Press. All that comes back at the Politico is a link to a post yesterday at Dylan Byers’ On Media Blog containing one pertinent sentence: “James Risen slams the Obama administration.” Whoopee.

Risen is the Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist for The New York Times who has been in the Obama administration’s crosshairs “in a years-long legal battle against the government to reveal one of his confidential sources, even petitioning the Supreme Court to hear his case.” On Monday, according to Andrew Beaujon at Poynter.org, Risen, appearing at at a George Polk Awards conference called Sources and Secrets, went after the Obama administration’s heavy-handedness towards the press (bolds are mine throughout this post):

New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order that he testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, opened the conference earlier by saying the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.” Anyone journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, “will be punished.”

The administration’s aggressive prosecutions have created “a de facto Official Secrets Act,” Risen said, and the media has been “too timid” in responding.

Based on the non-results of my searches noted earlier, the AP and the Politico clearly are members of Team Timid.

For the Bush Derangement Syndrome crowd who wants to claim that Obama’s predecessor was worse, here are portions of a comparative assessment by Leonard Downie Jr., with reporting by Sara Rafsky, at the Committee to Protect Journalists last October, which has certainly never been credibly accused of being a collection of conservative shills:

The Obama Administration and the Press

Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America

In the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press. Those suspected of discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests and scrutiny of their telephone and e-mail records. An “Insider Threat Program” being implemented in every government department requires all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues.

Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the press—compared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way. Reporters’ phone logs and e-mails were secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department in two of the investigations, and a Fox News reporter was accused in an affidavit for one of those subpoenas of being “an aider, abettor and/or conspirator” of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist. In another leak case, a New York Times reporter has been ordered to testify against a defendant or go to jail.

Numerous Washington-based journalists told me that officials are reluctant to discuss even unclassified information with them because they fear that leak investigations and government surveillance make it more difficult for reporters to protect them as sources. “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, an influential nonprofit government accountability news organization in Washington. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for the government to monitor those contacts,” he said.

“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.”

At the same time, the journalists told me, designated administration spokesmen are often unresponsive or hostile to press inquiries, even when reporters have been sent to them by officials who won’t talk on their own. Despite President Barack Obama’s repeated promise that his administration would be the most open and transparent in American history, reporters and government transparency advocates said they are disappointed by its performance in improving access to the information they need.

“This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.

… “President Obama had said that default should be disclosure,” Times reporter Shane told me. “The culture they’ve created is not one that favors disclosure.”

… 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. The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent.

“There’s no question that sources are looking over their shoulders,” Michael Oreskes, a senior managing editor of The Associated Press, told me months after the government, in an extensive leak investigation, secretly subpoenaed and seized records for telephone lines and switchboards used by more than 100 AP reporters in its Washington bureau and elsewhere.

A large part of the reason the administration gets away with their actions is that those who should be defending their institutions and their reporters won’t aggressively do so. By their actions, Team Timid is letting Team Obama know that it can continue its business as usual without significant worries about widespread public exposure.

Contrast Team Timid’s responses since the Obama administration began to this list of commentaries on the Bush administration’s less aggressive penchant for secrecy. One of the authors listed, John Podesta, who is currently a “Counselor to the President.” In 2004, while he was at the far-left Center for American Progress, he wrote:

President Bush has led the most secretive administration in modern memory, blocking open debate over issues of critical importance to all Americans. Now more than ever, we need an engaged and alert public, ready to confront the challenges before us. Instead, the Bush administration has sought to avoid accountability by keeping the public in the dark.

Pot, kettle, etc.

If a Republican or conservative administration were going to the lengths this administration has to limit reporters’ access … oh, you know the rest.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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