Although Obama is quoted saying “Transparency and rule of law will be one of the touchstones of this presidency”, he has fallen extremely short in delivering this promise, and in fact can be accused of having one of the most non-transparent administrations this country has seen in a long time, especially for journalists.
Anyone who is active on some form of social media can attest to Obama’s effective use of using platforms like Twitter, Buzzfeed, and Facebook to keep people informed and engaged regarding his policies. Check out his most recent “celeb appearance” on twitter:
It would make sense that Obama’s use of the these websites would translate to a high level of support for the media and press freedom, yet in reality this is not the case.
According to Freedom House, the United States is ranked free in both internet and press, which seems reassuring, but when placed on the World Press Freedom Index, the US ranks a disappointing 49 out of 140 countries, down three places from last year. Surprised? I was.
The reality of 9/11 and the War on Terror caused a major divide between the need to protect national security and the need to protect the freedom of the press. Prosecution of those responsible for leaks of alleged government secrets now have precedence over the Free Press Clause of the First Amendment, or the people’s “right to inform and be informed”.
So how exactly has the Obama Administration managed to close themselves off from the press without the public catching wind?
Primarily, the Obama administration has been going after the sources rather than pursuing the journalists themselves.
The Espionage Act of 1917 states that it’s purpose is: “To convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies.” Despite this, It has been used by Obama in response to leaks of sensitive information to the press to prosecute several former government whistleblowers. Although the original purpose seems noble, current day it is being used to undermine the work of the press and threatens the valuable sources that journalists use.
One of the more famous example is Chelsey Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents, cables, and videos/images to Wikileaks and other associated websites. She is now serving
35 years in a maximum-security prison. Extreme consequences such as these, for leaking information to the press demonstrates how vulnerable whistleblowers are in the U.S., and it has become harder to journalists to find sources for stories because of this “clamp-down” on security.
In addition to the already depressing outlook for American journalists, according to the AP, the Obama Administration has actually set a record for withholding government files under the Freedom of Information Act. Despite facing a backlog of unanswered requests of more than 200,000 (up 55% from last year), the administration still cut 375 full-time employees whose job was to look for records. Even when they do respond to requests, 39% are censored and the average time it took to respond to a request ranged from a day to 2.5 years.
It seems like the “most transparent” administration has a lot to hide.