The current executive branch of the federal government claims to be the most transparent in history but actually shows unprecedented hostility toward the news-gathering process. That is not a Tea Party press release but an ongoing story that emerged in some detail in a recent CSPAN session headed by Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of the Washington Post.
Mr. Downie, who was involved in the investigation of Watergate, is the author of The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America, a publication of the Committee to Protect Journalists. In the United States journalists may not need the same kind of protection they do in, say, Turkey, but they are currently having a hard time giving the public the information it needs to know. As one account puts it, “the report offers a comprehensive survey of the multiple ways that the Obama presidency has ushered in a paralyzing climate of fear for journalists and sources alike, one that severely threatens the news-gathering process.”
The report quotes New York Times reporter David Sanger that “this is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.” And New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan decries “the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press.” And it’s not just about the “national security” issue. Ellen Weiss, Washington bureau chief for Scripps newspapers sees an effort “to thwart accountability reporting about government agencies.” As this column has often noted, government agencies often indulge massive waste and fraud. Taxpayers need to know about it.
Downie interviewed 30 experienced Washington journalists and none could recall any precedent for the “the administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information.” And this, Downie concluded, from the administration that touted itself as the most transparent in history. Nobody should think that this is only a problem for journalists and government sources.
When the federal government prevents journalists from doing their job, that keeps the public uniformed about what the government is actually doing. As Obamacare confirms, that is often at odds with what the government claims to be doing. So the campaign to shrink-wrap government in secrecy and obfuscation qualifies as abuse of the public. As they push for true transparency, citizens would be wise to read between the lines and never believe anything until it’s officially denied.