WASHINGTON, October 10 (RIA Novosti) - The Obama administration’s “unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press” have cast a chill over journalism in the United States and are damaging the US position when it advocates for international press freedoms, a report by the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released Thursday says.
Despite a pledge by President Barack Obama to make his administration the most open in US history, many of the dozens of journalists interviewed by former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. for the 30-page report said the current administration has made access to key pieces of information more difficult by making sources afraid to talk.
“This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” veteran New York Times journalist David Sanger was quoted as saying in the report.
Sources are afraid to talk to reporters because, under the Obama administration, more than twice the number of government employees and contractors have been targeted by federal criminal prosecutions for allegedly leaking classified information to the press, than under all previous US administrations since 1917, according to the report.
Six government employees and two contractors, including Edward Snowden, who fled to Russia after leaking information to the media about US surveillance programs, have been the subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, compared with three during all of the previous US administrations since the act was passed nearly 100 years ago, the report says.
Reporters’ phone logs and emails have been secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department since Obama came to office, and one reporter was accused in an affidavit of being “an aider, abettor and/or conspirator” of an indicted leaker, exposing the journalist to possible prosecution for doing his job, the report says.
“Many of the reporters I talked to know sources of theirs who have been punished for leaks, subjected to lie detector tests and so on,” Downie told reporters at a news conference after the report was released.
Many sources, meanwhile, are “looking over their shoulder," and are “more jittery and more standoffish,” Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor at the Associated Press, one of the media organizations that was subpoenaed by the Justice Department, told Downie for the report.
Federal workers monitor each other under a program called “Insider Threat,” and anyone suspected of “discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret” is subject to a probe that might include lie detector tests, the report says.
Even as the administration cracks down on leakers, it spins a positive message that it wants to get out to the public, the report noted.
“They’re much more successful than previous administrations at controlling the message,” Downie told a news conference after the release of the report.
But the administration’s deft control of information does not make up for the fact that “little of the information most needed by the press and public to hold the administration accountable for its policies and actions” is being released, the report says.
The White House objected to criticisms raised in the report, with spokesman Jay Carney telling Downie that Obama gave more interviews in his first four years in office than “Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did in their respective first terms, combined,” and noting that the White House has posted reams of government information online.
The Obama White House even released to the public, information about National Security Agency (NSA) communications surveillance programs after Snowden leaked secret documents about those programs to the Washington Post and the British newspaper the Guardian, administration officials said.
But Downie was adamant. “The administration's war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I've seen” since the Watergate scandal under President Richard Nixon, he said in the report.
The erosion of US press freedoms has a ripple effect on journalists around the world, the CPJ warned.
“US media and the first amendment,” which guarantees free speech and other basic rights, “are an inspiration to journalists in many parts of the world who work under much more restrictive environments than in the United States,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.
“It’s absolutely essential that the United States should do everything possible to safeguard press freedom because any deterioration of standards in this country gives an opening for other countries to legitimize their actions” when they crack down on journalists, he said.
The CPJ has sent a list of recommendations to Obama, to improve the climate in which journalists work in the United States. The recommendations include ending “the practice of bringing espionage charges against people who leak classified information to journalists” and guaranteeing “that journalists will not be at legal risk or prosecuted for receiving confidential and/or classified information.”