Report: 'Climate of Fear' for Press Under Obama

Obama's treatment of press 'without equal since the Nixon administration,' says former Washington Post executive editor.

President Barack Obama speaks during a visit on April 7, 2009, to Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Obama's approach to the press is a poor example for the world.
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A report issued Thursday by the Committee to Protect Journalists alleges an erosion in press freedom, and transparency in tatters, in the United States since President Barack Obama first took office.

The report was drafted by Leonard Downie Jr., vice president at large and former executive editor of The Washington Post, and was released along with recommendations by the CPJ at a morning press conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Obama's tough approach to the press, Downie said, is "without equal since the Nixon administration," and is "in direct conflict with Obama's often stated goal of making his administration the most transparent in history."

Aggressive leak investigations and prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act have had a "much more widespread chilling effect than Nixon's enemies list," he said.

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Downie approached his report as a journalist, and it is filled with observations from longtime journalists as well as exclusive quotes.

"The idea that people are shutting up and not leaking to reporters is belied by the facts," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reportedly told Downie, pointing to leaks about Obama's planned military strikes against Syria's government.

But the report paints a very different picture, prominently noting the prosecution of eight people accused of providing information to the press under the 1917 law, versus three in all previous administrations since the law was first enacted, and the seizure of Associated Press phone records earlier this year as part of an investigation.

In addition to source probes, National Security Agency surveillance, the restrictive definition of a "journalist" under a proposed media shield law, an administration "insider threat" reporting system, tight message control by the White House and aggressive non-cooperation from officials were all mentioned as problems in the report.

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"The problem is that the Obama administration doesn't see this as a problem," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said at the press conference. "This is not an isolated problem."

According to Simon, the state of U.S. press freedom has global ramifications.

"Any deterioration in the standards in this country gives an opening for other governments to legitimize their actions," he said.

Downie denounced the "unresponsive, hostile and abusive" conduct of administration press deputies. Campaign-style social media messaging, he said, is used by Obama to "limit exposure to accountability probing [questions]" from journalists.

Obama has also failed to improve the flow of information through the Freedom of Information, Downie added.

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The CPJ released six recommendations along with the report, notably demanding that Obama "[e]nd the practice of bringing espionage charges against people who leak classified information to journalists" and "[m]ake good on promises to increase transparency of government activities and end government intimidation of officials who might speak to the press."

Another recommendation urges "the broadest possible definition of 'journalist' or 'journalism' in any federal shield law." An amendment to a pending bill, authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., limits who can claim to be a journalist and specifically excludes WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange from protection.

"Any federal shield law should protect the newsgathering process, rather than professional credentials, experience, or status, so that it cannot be used as a means of de facto government licensing," the CPJ says.

The report was the CPJ's first comprehensive look at press freedom in the U.S. The CPJ generally focuses on press freedom in countries with governments widely recognized as autocratic.

Read the report:

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