In a long piece revealing the current antagonistic climate between journalists and the Obama administration published in the Washington Post, Obama is called a “control-freak,” as well as “secretive,” and “manipulative,” it is said he is fostering an atmosphere of fear both at home and abroad, and is delivering a “slap in the face” to reporters all over his increased use of electronic surveillance of reporters.
The piece is an excerpt of a paper by former executive editor of The Washington Post, Leonard Downie, who is currently the Weil family professor of journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.
Downie’s piece is extraordinary in how it paints Obama as a paranoid, secretive, even vindictive president not to mention that it reveals that journalists have become afraid of their own shadows for fear that Obama is spying on them.
With as negatively as President Obama is depicted in this article and with the fear and loathing that Obama generates in these journalists, it is a wonder that so many of them still buoy his administration at nearly every turn. It is a dichotomy that shows just how much journalists allow their ideology to control their professional lives.
But some of the charges against Obama in this article are stark and indicates just how out of the mainstream this President has been at least as far as how he treats the press.
The piece describes the great lengths to which reporters of national security stories have gone to protect themselves and their sources from overzealous prosecution by Obama and his Department of Justice.
One way reporters are reacting is to only meet sources face-to-face, or better yet, through intermediaries so that sources can honestly claim they never met with a reporter when dragged before investigators by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Downie notes that Obama has used the 1917 Espionage Act in cases for which no president has ever invoked it, he points out how Obama is using electronic surveillance without telling reporters or their news agencies that he’s doing so, and he lists some of the many government officials that Obama has prosecuted or made to quit their jobs over what he calls “espionage” or “spying.”
The piece quotes several reports that are frightened to perform their job.
Downie notes that New York Times reporter Scott Shane, “whose e-mail traffic with the former CIA officer was seized, told me that the chilling lesson ‘is that seemingly innocuous e-mails not containing classified information can be construed as a crime.'”
The piece also reveals that Obama is illegitimately characterizing leakers as “spies” but who are better thought of as whistleblowers about improper government practices or actions and, worse, Obama is prosecuting them as such.
Naturally, as is Obama’s wont, his Department of Justice blames the Bush administration for all this over reacting, but Downie makes it clear in his piece that it is Obama’s people who have ramped up the surveillance and prosecutions to a level never before seen, a level far above what even Bush conducted.
It all makes for a paranoid administration, Downie indicates.
The author reports that David E. Sanger, who has worked for the Times in Washington for twenty years, said, “This is most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
Downie’s closing paragraphs are a shocking judgment on Obama’s Washington.
Will Obama recognize that all this threatens his often-stated but unfulfilled goal of making government more transparent and accountable? None of the Washington news media veterans I talked to were optimistic.
“Whenever I’m asked what is the most manipulative and secretive administration I’ve covered, I always say it’s the one in office now,” Bob Schieffer, CBS News anchor and chief Washington correspondent, told me. “Every administration learns from the previous administration. They become more secretive and put tighter clamps on information. This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”
When Obama came to office in 2008, he and his surrogates claimed that he have the “strictest ethics rules” and the most transparent administration in history.
It would seem that more and more journalists are finding that promise to be hollow.