President Obama lecturing journalists on how to do their jobs is like Goldfinger lecturing James Bond.
This past week Obama presented a journalism award along with a 30-minute speech at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In it he bemoaned the vulgar rhetoric and circus atmosphere of the current political campaign and talked about how important it is for professional journalists to do their jobs.
“Part of the independence of the Fourth Estate is that it is not government-controlled, and media companies thereby have an obligation to pursue profits on behalf of their shareholders, their owners, and also has an obligation to invest a good chunk of that profit back into news and back into public affairs, and to maintain certain standards and to not dumb down the news, and to have higher aspirations for what effective news can do,” Obama said. “Because a well-informed electorate depends on you. And our democracy depends on a well-informed electorate.”
This is from a man, who as a candidate promised the most transparent administration in the history of the world, but, according to a recent Associated Press analysis, has delivered the most secretive and stonewalling administration on record.
The AP reports the Obama administration has set a record for rejecting Freedom of Information Act requests.
The story recounts that in more than one in six requests, or 129,825 times, FOIA requests resulted in federal searchers finding not a single page of records. “People who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, also a record,” the AP report states.
The FBI couldn’t find any records in 39 percent of requests. U.S. Customs and Border Protection couldn’t find any records 34 percent of the time.
The administration rarely provides any detailed description of just how diligent their search efforts are.
Obama seldom holds press conferences and frequently refuses to answer questions or equivocates.
But in his admonition to reporters at the Syracuse award ceremony, Obama declared, “Good reporters like the ones in this room all too frequently find yourselves caught between competing forces, I’m aware of that. You believe in the importance of a well-informed electorate. You’ve staked your careers on it. Our democracy needs you more than ever.”
But his administration has blocked access to the information that would keep the electorate informed.
Not only has the Obama administration blocked access, it has blatantly gone after journalists’ sources and prosecuted people for daring to talk to reporters.
In 2013 it was revealed that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of cellular, office and home telephone records of AP reporters and editors in Washington, New York and Connecticut, as well as the number for AP reporters covering Congress.
“The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material,” the Washington Post reported at the time. “Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined.” Charges against leaker Edward Snowden brought that to seven. Prior to that there had been only three indictments for leaks under the World War I Espionage Act.
AP’s president and chief executive, Gary Pruitt, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
Before relenting in 2014, the administration for years threatened to jail New York Times reporter James Risen for refusing to reveal a confidential news source.
“As I believe that that for all the sideshows of the political season, Americans are still hungry for truth, it’s just hard to find,” Obama lectured.
Why is it hard to find, Mr. President?