I recently wrote a column on the wholesale attack on press freedoms under President Obama that parallel his attack on other civil liberties and privacy principles (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). I testified on the erosion of press freedom under President George W. Bush but the assault on the free press has worsened under President Obama while Democratic members and supporters remain conspicuously silent. Reporters have not been so silent or reticent and have repeatedly tried to educate citizens of the danger to press freedoms under this President. Now one of the most respected journalists in the country, New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Risen, has declared that the Obama Administration is the greatest threat to a free press in a generation.
Risen spoke at the Sources and Secrets conference in New York City and told the crowd that the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” Risen said that the Administration has actively sought to “narrow the field of national security reporting” and “create a path for accepted reporting” while threatening to punish those who do not yield.
Risen is not just some disgruntled reporter. He won the Pulitzer prize for National Reporting in 2006 for his stories about the Bush warrantless wiretapping program. He was also a group recipient of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for coverage of 9/11 and terrorism. He is considered the gold standard for investigative reporting. In my recent column on the loss of press freedom, I referred to this time as “one of the most inspiring periods for journalism.” I was thinking of Risen and a couple of other courageous reporters who have revealed abuses under this and the prior administration ranging from torture to surveillance to secret prisons.
Previously, the New York Times editors lambasted Obama for his attack on the free press. New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson has added her voice:
This is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term.
I dealt directly with the Bush White House when they had concerns that stories we were about to run put the national security under threat. But, you know, they were not pursuing criminal leak investigations. The Obama administration has had seven criminal leak investigations. That is more than twice the number of any previous administration in our history. It’s on a scale never seen before. This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with.
Despite efforts from many of us to warn of the lasting damage being done to such freedoms by this President, the White House has been successful in blocking any real reforms or criticism in the Democratic ranks. It has an army of enablers and apologists who quickly redirect discussions to how much worse the Republicans would be. While some Democrats and liberals are beginning to say that they do not support such policies, they still rally to the President as soon as the subject changes from civil liberties. Most Democrats and liberals refuse to join civil libertarians in opposing this President. It is bread-and-circus politics at its worst. We are trading away civil liberties for a cult of personality, but that personality will eventually be gone . . . with many of these protections that died without a whimper of regret.
All that we can do is continue to warn about the rapid loss of civil liberties and protections under Obama. Risen is the latest and one of the most meaningful voices in that rising chorus. It is likely to cause just another pause before the White House changes the subject to the relief of its supporters. However, those pauses are increasing in number and perhaps there will be enough to give members sufficient courage to fulfill their oaths and fight to protect the Constitution against a clear and growing danger.