Coalition of Journalism Groups Denounce Obama Administration for “Politically-Driven Suppression of the News”

100px-Society_of_Professional_Journalists_logoPresident_Barack_ObamaWe have previously discussed the attacks by the Obama Administration on civil liberties and privacy. Obama has also been accused of attacks on press freedoms — resulting in a sharp decline in the standing of the United States on press rights. Now 38 journalism groups have denounced the Obama Administration for censoring media coverage, limiting access to top officials and overall “politically-driven suppression of the news.”

The letter to President Obama is led by the widely respected Society of Professional Journalists. The media has previously denounced the Nixonian surveillance on individual journalists ordered by this Administration. The letter singles out Obama’s breaking of his campaign pledge to have the most transparent Administration in history. Instead, the Obama Administration has equalled or even surpassed the Bush Administration in secrecy and hostility to public or press access to information. While cutting of access of the media, however, these media organization accuse the Obama Administration of giving wide access to lobbyists, special interests and “people with money.”

Once again, the White House has a virtually army of commenters and blog surfers who continually deflect such criticism by referring to how much worse the Republicans are or simply changing the subject. However, the mounting attacks on civil liberties by this Administration has gutted the foundational principles of the Democratic party and virtually destroyed the American civil liberties movement. What is left the power of personality over principle. However, this will not our last president. When he leaves, he will leave little in his wake beyond hypocrisy for those who have remained silent in the face of the abuses. It is the victory of the “blue state/red state” construct that maintain the duopoly of the two parties. Each party excuses its failures by referring to the other as the worst of two evils. For years, Democrats and liberals have supported Obama as he has attacked the defining values that were once the Democratic party. The fact that this letter is even necessary is a shocking statement on the state of American press freedom.

The letter is below:

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C
July 8, 2014

Mr. President,

You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.

Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees. This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level. Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title “spokesperson.” Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis.

In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.

Some argue that controlling media access is needed to ensure information going out is correct. But when journalists cannot interview agency staff, or can only do so under surveillance, it undermines public understanding of, and trust in, government. This is not a “press vs. government” issue. This is about fostering a strong democracy where people have the information they need to self-govern and trust in its governmental institutions.

It has not always been this way. In prior years, reporters walked the halls of agencies and called staff people at will. Only in the past two administrations have media access controls been tightened at most agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with journalists without surveillance. Meanwhile, agency personnel are free speak to others — lobbyists, special-interest representatives, people with money — without these controls and without public oversight.

Here are some recent examples:

• The New York Times ran a story last December on the soon-to-be implemented ICD-10 medical coding system, a massive change for the health care system that will affect the whole public. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), one of the federal agencies in charge of ICD-10, wouldn’t allow staff to talk to the reporter.

• A reporter with Investigative Post, an online news organization in New York, asked three times without success over the span of six weeks to have someone at EPA answer questions about the agency’s actions regarding the city of Buffalo’s alleged mishandling of “universal waste” and hazardous waste.

• A journalist with Reuters spent more than a month trying to get EPA’s public affairs office to approve him talking with an agency scientist about the effects of climate change. The public affairs officer did not respond to him after his initial request, nor did her supervisor, until the frustrated journalist went over their heads and contacted EPA’s chief of staff.

The undersigned organizations ask that you seek an end to this restraint on communication in federal agencies. We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so. We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched.

We also ask you provide an avenue through which any incidents of this suppression of communication may be reported and corrected. Create an ombudsman to monitor and enforce your stated goal of restoring transparency to government and giving the public the unvarnished truth about its workings. That will go a long way toward dispelling Americans’ frustration and cynicism before it further poisons our democracy.

Further examples on the issue are provided as well as other resources.


David Cuillier
Society of Professional Journalists

Beth Parke
Executive Director
Society of Environmental Journalists

Kathryn Foxhall
Society of Professional Journalists

Holly Spangler
American Agricultural Editors’ Association

Gil Gullickson
Board Chair
American Agricultural Editors’ Association Professional Improvement Foundation

Alexandra Cantor Owens
Executive Director
American Society of Journalists and Authors

Janet Svazas
Executive Director
American Society of Business Publication Editors

David Boardman
American Society of News Editors

Hoda Osman
Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association

Kathy Chow
Executive Director
Asian American Journalists Association

Diana Mitsu Klos
Executive Director
Associated Collegiate Press

Paula Poindexter
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

Miriam Pepper
Association of Opinion Journalists

Lisa Graves
Executive Director
Center for Media and Democracy

Rachele Kanigel
College Media Association

Gay Porter DeNileon
Colorado Press Women

Sue Udry
Executive Director
Defending Dissent Foundation

Mark Newton
Journalism Education Association

Mark Horvit
Executive Director
Investigative Reporters and Editors

J.H. Snider

Phyllis J. Griekspoor
North American Agricultural Journalists

Carol Pierce
Executive Director
National Federation of Press Women

Robert M. Williams Jr.
National Newspaper Association

Bob Meyers
National Press Foundation

Charles Deale
Executive Director
National Press Photographers Association

Diana Mitsu Klos
Executive Director
National Scholastic Press Association

Mary Hudetz
Native American Journalists Association

Jane McDonnell
Executive Director
Online News Association

Patrice McDermott
Executive Director

Tim Franklin
The Poynter Institute

Danielle Brian
Executive Director
Project on Government Oversight

Jeff Ruch
Executive Director
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

George Bodarky
Public Radio News Directors Incorporated

Mike Cavender
Executive Director
Radio Television Digital News Association

Herb Jackson
Regional Reporters Association

Christophe Deloire
Secretary General
Reporters without Borders

Frank LoMonte
Executive Director
Student Press Law Center

Roy S. Gutterman
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University

David Steinberg
UNITY Journalists for Diversity

229 thoughts on “Coalition of Journalism Groups Denounce Obama Administration for “Politically-Driven Suppression of the News””

  1. John Oliver
    My father is 85.
    Electronics confound him.

    He and I were talking about spying. He understands that public platforms of social media allow strangers the ability to gain access to information about himself and that he cherishes his annonimity. He’s just amazed at how fast things progress… And how fast people adapt. I suppose his parents felt the same thing about automobes and TV. Etc. He did express his bewilderment as to what the next thing technology will bring us. I didn’t want to tell him about the facial recognition the NSA can do on him when he Skypes, instead telling him about Apples iWatch.

    We then got to discussing MSM. I simply said, “you do realize the only person serving time in Federal prison for the torture program under Bush is John Kiriakiu, the whistle blower who revealed the illegality of the torture program?” His response of, “Who? I’ve never heard about that.” That’s when I had to tell him that the news media that he’s been watching misleads and misinforms him, regularly. His shocked look was filled with disbelief and wonder. I did manage, however, to get him to stop listening to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh five, six years ago!


  2. Darren @4:06
    Well said!
    I’m petiontioning my House Rep to start defending our 1st, 4th and 5th Amendment Rights from a series of out of control Administrations. I’ve asked for clarification as to how it was impeachable under Bush when his Admin usurps the basic Civil Rights of HIS constituents but isn’t under Obama. The answer is obvious. I’ve announced to his office staff that he’s lost MY support and that the overall 7% approval rating also reflects upon how he’s faithfully Representing HIS constituents. I’m almost certain citizens in HIS district have been illegally spied upon… Yet, he refuses to comment.

    I think a plausible slogan against my Congressman might sound like: “When Bush and Obama illegally spied on Americans in via toon of the Constitution, Jim stood down. Elect me to stand up four YOU!”

    I’d give that person a serious consideration…

  3. Paul, Obama seems to be like the uncle @ reunions everyone tries to avoid.

  4. Since my comment showed up then disappeared, I’ll get a chance to edit it!

    Personanongrata, thank you for reminding us that it is perfectly legal to propagandize American citizens. Not that the govt. wasn’t doing it anyway, but that, along with many other illegalities, have been made “legal”. I appreciated you pointing out some of the techniques used on us as well. This information is available on other sites besides wikipedia for anyone who wishes to know more about how the administration is manipulating our population.

  5. Personanongrata, thank you for reminding us that it is perfectly legal to propagandize American citizens. Not that the govt. wasn’t doing it anyway, but that along with many other illegalities have been made “legal”. I appreciated you pointing out some of the techniques used as well. This information is available on other sites besides wikipedia for anyone who wishes to know more about how the administration is manipulating our population.

    1. Vattel’s “The Law of Nations
      Book I Chapter 19

      § 212. Citizens and natives.

      The citizens are the members of the civil society; bound to this society by certain duties, and subject to its authority, they equally participate in its advantages. The natives, or natural-born citizens, are those born in the country, of parents who are citizens. As the society cannot exist and perpetuate itself otherwise than by the children of the citizens, those children naturally follow the condition of their fathers, and succeed to all their rights. The society is supposed to desire this, in consequence of what it owes to its own preservation; and it is presumed, as matter of course, that each citizen, on entering into society, reserves to his children the right of becoming members of it. The country of the fathers is therefore that of the children; and these become true citizens merely by their tacit consent. We shall soon see whether, on their coming to the years of discretion, they may renounce their right, and what they owe to the society in which they were born. I say, that, in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen; for, if he is born there of a foreigner, it will be only the place of his birth, and not his country.

  6. I just saw that idiot Cuellar on CNN. This nitwit wants us to let in millions of illegals and for the rest of the country to take care of them. His own district is too poor to handle any of it. Obama does not have to visit the border or the huge asylums where they are storing these kids. He needs to seal the border and send these kids back to ten ft beyond he U.S. border. They came in from Mexico, let Mexico deal with them. I would like to see Cuellar’s birth certificate too.

  7. There are some Dem politicians getting fed up. Congressman Henry Cuellar from Texas has been trying to get the King to visit the border. The WH contacted him and told him to stfu. Cuellar told them to go shit in their hat and called Obama “Aloof and bizarre” for being 200 miles from the border and refusing to visit. Obama did a fundraiser for Senator Udall in Colorado yesterday and Udall WAS A NO SHOW! Nobody wants to be seen w/ the King.

    1. Nick – If I remember correctly, Obama had a bad record with the people he supported last time. His numbers are dropping and if I were a Democrat who was up for re-election, I would run from him like a bunny from a fox.

  8. saucy – yes, I saw that Obama is pimping Michelle out. We already have Hillary and Elizabeth, Michelle should make for a interesting field for the Democrats to pick from. And yet, there is still Joe Biden to deal with. 😀

  9. The fact he added the word “candidate” is an important distinction. In his world “presidential” ends once the election is over.

  10. Hey, Paul, did you hear that Obama wants Michelle to run for president? That’s great, now we have three dynasties.

    “You know, Michelle would make a great presidential candidate, too,” said Obama.

  11. @LaserDLiquidator,

    You know what you need, you own frigging blog.

    I have to sift thru 39 comments of yours to follow the conversation of the real people here.

    Maybe you could write a 2 paragraph synopsis of that webpage you link to and spend the rest of your time updating it to something more recent than Windoze ’95.

    1. saucy – and some slaves did, too. It was not all raping and whipping all day.

  12. saucy – there are tons of interracial couples now. When my wife and I first married I was the only white married to a Chinese woman in her family association. Now there are several and lots of biracial kids.

  13. The #1 Paul wrote ” The population that actually owned slaves in the South was relatively small because a major plantation required hundreds of slaves.”

    Yes, but John believes himself to be worthy of the exalted position of plantation owner. American blacks have 10-20% white blood in them, on average, and John wants a piece of the action.

    By the way, you are correct regarding Wikipedia. Many pages have errors, some rather blatant. I seem to remember a medical group warning not to take Wikipedia medical pages too seriously.

  14. Talking about accurate reporting, do you know WHY Brazil had such an incredibly bad game? The night before the Brazil team saw a psychiatrist for ‘counseling’! FACT!

    1. traveling limey – what was England’s problem? Sports psychologist have been important to top level athletes for years.

  15. Any source may be biased thus it is imperative to vet the information before sticking your foot in your mouth.

    Due diligence is your friend.

  16. Paul C. Schulte

    Dredd – if 7 of 9 wanted me to drop my shields, I would willing. 😀
    Cosmic assimilation.

  17. Personanongrata

    Lets not forget that the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 an amendment found in section 1078 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 allows the US government to disseminate propaganda domestically.

    Paul C. Schulte

    Please, please, please. I beg of all of you, do not use Wikipedia for anything important.
    The government changes Wikipedia, at least they did at one time, more than other changers (Catapulting The Wikipropaganda?).

    Perhaps that law Personanongrata cites to allows that?

    Illegal or not, be careful with “The Wiki.”

    Like one needs to be when quoting elitist journalists.

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