U.S.

Report blasts US press freedom

Unprecedented report says Obama administration’s tactics have ‘chilling effect’ on journalism

President Barack Obama at a White House press conference on Tuesday.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For the first time in its 32-year history, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published a report investigating press freedom in the United States. Published Thursday, the report follows an unprecedented number of prosecutions of government sources and seizures of journalists' records under the Obama administration that many contend have curtailed press freedom and government transparency. 

Leonard Downie Jr., a former executive editor of The Washington Post, wrote the 30-page analysis, titled "The Obama Administration and the Press." The report notes that President Barack Obama came into office pledging an open, transparent government after criticizing the Bush administration's secrecy, but that his administration has curbed even "routine disclosure of information" and deployed its own media operations "to evade scrutiny by the press."

"When I'm asked what is the most manipulative and secretive administration I've covered, I always say it's the one in office now," CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer told Downie. "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."

The report also found that the Sept. 11 attacks were a "watershed moment," leading to increased secrecy, surveillance and control of information.

Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith, who was a senior national security lawyer in the Pentagon and the Justice Department during the Bush administration, is quoted in the report as saying the growing national security role of the government following the attacks led to a "gigantic expansion of the secrecy system."

Since 2009, six government employees and two contractors, including former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, have been targeted for prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act with accusations that they leaked classified information to the press. There were just three such prosecutions under all previous U.S. presidents.

Those suspected of discussing classified information are increasingly subject to investigation, lie-detector tests, scrutiny of telephone and email records and now surveillance by co-workers under a new "Insider Threat Program" that has been implemented in every agency, the report said. 

Earlier this year, the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed nearly two months of telephone records for 21 phone lines used by reporters and editors for The Associated Press, and secretly used a warrant to obtain emails of Fox News journalist James Rosen.

The CPJ report also noted that in order to bypass journalists, the White House developed its own network of websites and social media and even created an online newscast to dispense favorable information and images. In some cases, the White House produced videos of the president's meetings with major figures that were never listed on his public schedule. Instead, they were kept secret — marking a departure from past administrations.

The report also called the case involving Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, a "turning point."

Manning, who turned over hundreds of thousands of State Department diplomatic cables and Army incident reports, was sentenced to 35 years in prison earlier this year.

Lucy Dalglish, who is now the dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, is quoted in the report as saying that "after Wikileaks, the administration got together and decided we’re not going to let this happen again."

The White House has not yet responded to a request for comment from Al Jazeera, but in the CPJ report White House national security adviser Ben Rhodes is quoted as saying: "We make an effort to communicate about national security issues in on-the-record and background briefings by sanctioned sources and we still see investigative reporting from nonsanctioned sources with lots of unclassified information and some sensitive information."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press 

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