Today the Committee to Protect Journalists unveiled a detailed, sober assessment of press freedom in the United States during President Obama’s tenure. The report concluded that far from fulfilling his campaign promise to improve transparency, the president has instead presided over an unprecedented campaign to contain leaks and to control media coverage of government operations.And more:
The fact that the CPJ issued the report at all underscores how hostile official policy has been to journalists. While the CPJ has reported on press freedoms in countries around the world since the early 1980s, this is its first investigation focused on the United States. Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, wrote the report, with input from several dozen Washington journalists, media advocates and former government officials.
Downie told The Nation he was most surprised by the unanimity of those reporters about the ways the administration has made their jobs more difficult. The level of specificity the many journalists were able to provide convinced him that the problems were pervasive and exceptional. “The Obama administration’s aggressive 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 this morning.Fortunately, major news sources – like, for example, the Washington Post – learned their lesson after Watergate. (The lesson: Never, ever do another Watergate story.)
Many of the administration’s moves towards transparency followed unauthorized disclosures of secret activities and appear not to have been made voluntarily at all. For example, the White House recently declassified many documents pertaining to the FISA court that approves the NSA’s request for spying authority and Obama has expressed support for tightening privacy protections and for the addition of a special advocate to argue in the public interest at FISA hearings. But, the CPJ report argues, “the Obama administration… should have been more open and accountable for the NSA’s surveillance activities in the first place. It seems highly unlikely that this new transparency would have begun without Snowden’s disclosures.”Obama, the former constitutional law professor, increasingly reminds me of the congressional staffers who go to work for the lobbying shops, now that they know all the points where the system can be bent to someone's advantage. (The only difference being that the staffers helped write the vulnerable points into law in the first place.)