The Obama White House, Steiger wrote on ProPublica.org, is “an administration that took office promising to be the most transparent in history instead has carried out the most intrusive surveillance of reporters ever attempted.
“It also has made the most concerted effort at least since the plumbers and the enemies lists of the Nixon Administration to intimidate officials in Washington from ever talking to a reporter.”
That is not a new revelation. Journalists have documented a growing list of First Amendment and free press concerns during Obama’s first five years. The Edward Snowden affair and the controversy surrounding the spying actions of the National Security Administration have only ratcheted up the Obama administration’s efforts to control the release of information, whether classified or not.
In October, the Committee to Protect Journalists published an encyclopedic report in what Steiger calls “chilling detail” of the White House’s efforts to silence government workers, limit access for journalists and use White House social media accounts to circumvent allowing mainstream press coverage of everyday events.
A comment worth considering: “This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered,” David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times, says in the CPJ report.
It’s not only written information that’s in play here. Last Saturday, The New York Times reported on the White House Correspondents’ Association’s protest that the White House routinely kept news photographers away from President Obama and then released pictures of the events through press releases or through Twitter or Facebook.
The White House Correspondents’ Association members have rightly balked at the administration’s notion that they use the provided photographs, often taken by official White House photographer Pete Souza, in their news coverage. (Souza shot the now-famous Situation Room photograph of Obama and his Cabinet watching video of the attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound.) Any journalist worth their weight knows that handouts — either information, photography or video — carry the stigma of being provided by the newsmakers themselves. Reputable media not only prefer to produce their own work, thereby removing the stigma and building trust with readers, but they often require it.
A day later, the Sunday Times carried a lengthy front-page story on the Obama administration’s slow-footed response to the website problems for the Affordable Care Act. The story was damning in its detail. It also made use of government sources who we have to assume rankled the White House’s ire for speaking so candidly about the government’s mistakes.
Throughout this maze is Americans’ need to have journalists documenting the actions of the highest corners of the government. It is the foundation of the First Amendment. Shame on the White House for moving the United States backward in this regard.