Last week, Reporters Without Borders dropped America in the World Press Freedom Index 2014 from 33rd to 46th. James Risen of The New York Times rightly explained, “I think 2013 will go down in history as the worst year for press freedom in the United States’ modern history.” And he’s right. The violation of press freedoms has been egregious under this administration, even as the press fetes President Obama as an honest and effective commander-in-chief.
Selective Access. President Obama has regularly granted special access to reporters who give him preferential coverage. CBS’ Steve Kroft admitted as much after a late-2012 interview with the President during which CBS clipped Obama’s explicit refusal to label Benghazi an act of terror: “(Obama) knows that we’re not going to play ‘gotcha’ with him, that we’re not going to go out of our way to make him look bad or stupid.”
Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, got special access for a profile of Obama for Vanity Fair – but Obama insisted on redlining his quotes. Lewis explained that “the White House insisted on signing off on the quotes that would appear.” A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle was threatened for covering an anti-Obama protest. As early as 2008, candidate Obama was kicking dissenters off planes after their outlets endorsed John McCain.
Targeting Reporters. In May 2013, the Associated Press dropped the bombshell that the Department of Justice had grabbed phone records for its reporters and editors of the course of two months. Records for 20 telephone lines belonging to the AP and reporters for it were seized between April and May of 2012. Those seizures affected over 100 journalists.
The AP’s President and CEO Gary Pruitt stated, “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.” Fox News’ James Rosen was also targeted by the DOJ after running a story about North Korea nuclear development. His State Department visits were tracked and his movements were followed. His parents’ phone records were even grabbed.
Placing FCC Monitors in Newsrooms. Last week, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai revealed in the pages of the Wall Street Journal that the FCC will be sending employees into media workplaces to monitor how and what stories are chosen. The goal: to “ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters” concerning “the process by which stories are selected.”
Pai explained, the FCC “plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their ‘news philosophy’ and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.” Reporters will also be asked whether their stories were killed by management in an effort to elicit “specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decision.”
Refusing to Answer Questions. President Obama held fewer press conferences than any president since Reagan. He held ten less than George W. Bush, 54 less than President Clinton, and 64 less than George H.W. Bush. And during those press conferences, questions were largely scripted and chosen. He held just 107 Q&As with the press during his first term, as compared with 354 by George W. Bush. In fact, Obama considers tough questions “unfair,” as he told Bill O’Reilly during his pre-Super Bowl interview.
Refusing to Comply With Freedom of Information Act Requests. According to Bloomberg News, Freedom of Information Act compliance under the Obama administration has been abysmal. Bloomberg reported that “19 of 20 federal agencies did not comply within 20 days to a request for travel expenses made under the Freedom of Information Act.” Obama’s record on FOIA requests in his first two years was worse than George W. Bush’s in his last three – an odd pattern, given that administrations tend to tighten up on transparency as time goes on. When Obama was given an award for open government, it was not open to the press.
Here are Obama’s stats: 38.4% denied in 2009, 37.7% denied in 2010, 35.3% denied in 2011. In his last three years, Bush’s stats were 23.5%, 24%, and 40.6%. In 2009, the Obama administration asked Judicial Watch to praise the administration’s transparency, but then refused to hand over Secret Service logs Judicial Watch requested. The Obama administration has said that documents about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not subject to FOIA.