Obama Administration Has 'Chilling' Effect on Free Press

Obama Administration Has 'Chilling' Effect on Free Press

The truth is supposed to set you free, right?

Not according to the Obama administration, which two journalists have recently accused of having a “chilling” effect on reporting in Washington, D.C.

Sharyl Attkisson left CBS after 20 years because she finally got sick and tired of her stories not getting air time. After pursuing in-depth investigative stories on issues like Benghazi and Obamacare, she found herself repeatedly stonewalled from presenting them to the public. She watched broadcasters become less interested in original reporting and more wary of ruffling feathers. Managers opted instead for broadcasts that “don’t dig very deep.” Finally, Atkisson had enough.

She doesn’t have it out for the current administration. Attkisson’s reporting is not ideologically motivated; she covered many problems in the Bush administration and sought to do the same during the Obama years. This time around she ran up against much more pushback and wasn’t getting support from her network.

The press in general seems to be very shy of challenging the administration, as if it’s making some political statement rather than just doing our job as watchdogs.

Attkisson finds this so problematic because it defies the very purpose of a free press. Remember when journalists actually held the government accountable?

Yet Attkisson claims the Obama administration does anything but provide solid information that the public needs. She’s witnessed “a lot of obfuscation [and] accusations” from the White House. Instead of letting the public be informed, the administration labels certain stories as phony scandals, feeds misinformation and false information, then modifies statements when questions are revisited.

Getting information from this administration has become “a tedious process that results in very little real information,” and Attkisson says it’s unacceptable.

I believe the public owns the information that [the White House is] guarding as some sort of corporation with PR officials, and they think we’re not entitled to see or to have it.

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, points to multiple criminal leak investigations initiated by the administration that have “put a chill on reporting about national security issues in Washington.” These actions have both sources and reporters “scared to death that they’re going to be prosecuted… or subpoenaed in this atmosphere.”

Abramson has not seen these kind of actions against members of the press before and is wary of where they might lead. “The Obama years are a benchmark for a new level of secrecy and control,” she says. Under President Obama, the Justice Department is pursuing cases against reporters under an obscure provision of the 1917 Espionage Act. This inches closer to a level of government control and censorship of information that our country has not seen.

Because of this fear, stories that the public needs to know are not brought forward. Not many want to risk the Obama administration not liking it, calling it a leak, and investigating. Even photographers have been unusually restricted, as the White House now prefers to have journalists rely on their official images. However, every reporter knows relying exclusively on one source is just bad journalism. Abramson says reporters are facing more and more challenges just to do their job.

The amount of friction and confrontation involved in just going about what I see as perfectly normal coverage, that in the past wouldn’t have even provoked a discussion, becomes a protracted and somewhat exhausting process.

That’s exactly why Attkisson says many reporters and broadcasters just won’t fight back anymore. “Broadcasters get to the point where they don’t want to deal with the headache of it,” so they produce blasé reporting that keeps everyone happy.

Well, not everyone. As the Obama administration chills free expression of the journalists, America suffers.

That’s why Atkisson should be applauded for not going along with the program at CBS or giving up her responsibility to the American public. Instead of ramming her head against an ever-thickening wall in broadcasting, Attkisson wrote a book about her experience titled Stonewalled: My Fight For the Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation and Harassment in Obama’s Washington. If CBS won’t run her stories, she’ll find another way to get people to listen.

We should all pay attention to what she’s saying… and what the other reporters decidedly aren’t.

Mark Meckler is the President of Citizens for Self-Governance, which created the Convention of States Project.


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