After US President Barack Obama entered office in 2009 pledging transparency and open government, it was a refreshing wind of change from the locked-down Bush years. The reality, however, has fallen dramatically short of the promise.
10. White House seizes phone records of Associated Press reporters
During a two-month period in 2012, the US Justice Department seized telephone records from some 100 journalists at AP offices in New York, Washington and Connecticut without providing any explanation. The government waited until May 2013 to inform the global news agency of the unprecedented surveillance, which naturally sparked a wave of consternation and not a little apprehension throughout the media world. “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” AP Chief Executive Gary Pruitt said in a letter addressed to former Attorney General Eric Holder.
AFP Photo / Jean AyissiAFP Photo / Jean Ayissi
9. Emmy-award winning reporter accuses government of bugging her laptop
In her book, “Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington,” former CBS anchor Sharyl Attkisson says she was informed that one of the US government’s intelligence agencies “discovered my Skype account handle, stole the password, activated the audio, and made heavy use of it, presumably as a listening tool.” Further inspection of the laptop revealed classified US documents that were “buried deep” in her computer. The reason for the “plant,” according to her unidentified source, “was probably to accuse you of having classified documents if they ever needed to do that at some point.”
8. News correspondent’s emails monitored
In May 2013, Fox News correspondent James Rosen was accused under the Espionage Act of possibly being a “co-conspirator” in the 2009 release of classified information on North Korea’s nuclear plans based on interviews with his Washington source. It was revealed that the US government monitored Rosen’s emails, a clandestine activity that would seem to have little in common with the spirit of a free press. The charges came at a very peculiar time. Republican Senator Marco Rubio reminded that Rosen had been aggressively reporting on the 2012 Benghazi tragedy, which saw the US ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens killed during a massive protest. “The sort of reporting by James Rosen detailed in the report is the same sort of reporting that helped Mr. Rosen aggressively pursue questions about the Administration’s handling of Benghazi.” Was not-so-subtle pressure being exerted on Rosen to back off on Benghazi?
7. Obama’s ‘Insider Threat Program’
Following a wave of whistleblowing activities inside government agencies, an “Insider Threat Program” is being organized inside government agencies that “require all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In this atmosphere, instead of treating the disease of rampant intrusiveness of the sort revealed last year by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the government hopes to merely hide the symptoms of its abusive powers. Since 2009, seven government employees, including Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the media. AP’s Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee said some government employees have allegedly been told they could lose their jobs for talking to reporters, adding, “day-to-day intimidation of sources is also extremely chilling.”
6. Obama, the stage-managed president
Editors of The Associated Press condemned the White House’s latest novelty in the field of photojournalism of handing out press release-style pictures taken by his own staff photographers. These official photographs do little to capture history and are “little more than propaganda,” according to AP director of photography Santiago Lyon. Past presidential administrations were less restrictive about taking photographs, putting into doubt once again Obama’s claim that he aims for “the most transparent administration” in White House history.
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)
In July, 40 news organizations reminded President Obama in a letter that any attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear is a form of “censorship.” The candid communication provided a picture of the increasingly repressive atmosphere US journalists must contend with when attempting to provide coverage on stories connected to the government: “Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely: Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported in September that members of the White House press-pool have complained that Obama media officials demand changes to their stories before they are disseminated to the public, allowing the White House to put a positive spin on stories.
AFP Photo / Saul LoebAFP Photo / Saul Loeb
4. Bye-bye military embeds
As the Obama administration has opened its latest military offensive, this time against the Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, only a few photographs are trickling out of the war zone. Gone are the days when journalists were embedded in the military, documenting conflicts side-by-side soldiers as the action was happening. “News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off – there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from,” complained AP’s Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee.
Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr. speaks about the Syrian bombing campaign September 23, 2014 in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Mark Wilson)Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr. speaks about the Syrian bombing campaign September 23, 2014 in Washington, DC (AFP Photo / Mark Wilson)
3. Guantanamo Bay information blackout
Despite early campaign promises to close down the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention center, the facility is not only still open but the Obama administration is keeping the public in the dark as the military tribunal against some 175 alleged terrorists enters its closing stages. Photo and video coverage is outright forbidden. This is strange considering that even the Nuremburg hearings against Nazi leaders – who killed far more people than Al-Qaeda – permitted the media a front-row seat at the international hearings. It is also a very unfortunate and telling footnote to the American claim that it wants to spread democracy around the world.
Detainees participate in an early morning prayer session at Camp IV at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base (Reuters / Deborah Gembara)Detainees participate in an early morning prayer session at Camp IV at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base (Reuters / Deborah Gembara)
2. Investigation against NYT’s reporter James Risen
Following the publication of James Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration” ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was hit with felony charges for allegedly revealing classified information involving Iran’s nuclear program. Department of Justice lawyer Robert A. Parker, arguing that the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist should be forced to testify in the trial of Sterling, said there’s “no [reporter’s] privilege in the first place.” In June, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Risen, who now faces imprisonment for refusing to identify his source. “We can only hope now that the government will not seek to have him held in contempt for doing nothing more than reporting the news and keeping his promises,” his lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, told the New York Times.
AFP Photo / Saul LoebAFP Photo / Saul Loeb
1. Hunting season for whistleblowers
The Obama administration has filed seven cases under the Espionage Act, the latest one against former NSA contractor Edward Snowden this June. Before Barack Obama was sworn into office in 2009, there had been only three cases of the government using the Espionage Act to prosecute government officials for blowing the whistle on questionable activities. “There’s no question that this has a chilling effect,” Mark Mazzetti, who covers national security issues for the New York Times, told the Washington Post. “People who have talked in the past are less willing to talk now.”