We kicked off the week with an article about reporter James Risen’s analysis that there’s a so-called “war on whistleblowers” being conducted by the Obama administration. Risen also discussed his theory that President Obama has been “The Greatest Enemy to Press Freedom in a Generation.” On both counts, Risen is greatly exaggerating if not entirely fabricating the Obama administration’s record. As we wrote on Monday, there have been exactly zero journalists imprisoned under the Obama Justice Department, while eight reporters were jailed during the Bush and Clinton administrations. Furthermore, on the whistleblower front, we determined that Risen and others are confusing, perhaps deliberately, the notion of “leakers” and “whistleblowers,” and, regarding the latter, the Obama administration has a reasonably solid track record in creating avenues to protect whistleblowers.
Coincidentally, The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald tweeted the following links the other day:
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 28, 2014
Let’s address Greenwald’s tweet. First of all, I would hardly consider three links to be indicative of a “consensus” — especially when one of the links is an opinion article for The Guardian written by Greenwald himself. Another link takes us to a minuscule blurb about the case of Fox News Channel’s James Rosen. And the other link points to an article from The Washington Post based on an article in USA Today which, in fairness, listed a series of White House reporters and their gripes about the Obama team’s lack of transparency. So, I suppose such a list could be very, very loosely defined as a consensus even though there are hundreds more reporters assigned to the presidential beat who aren’t quoted in any of the links.
Based on the tweet, this “greatest enemy” label doesn’t appear to be about successful prosecutions against journalists, it seems more like an issue of transparency. If it’s the latter, then we have to redefine “The Greatest Enemy to Press Freedom in a Generation,” which clearly suggests that Obama is locking up journalists and defying the First Amendment more than anyone else in 40-some-odd-years. Sure, Risen has been subpoenaed to testify, and Rosen is also being dogged by the Justice Department, but again, neither has been locked up, while the previous two administrations imprisoned eight reporters — consequences that have yet to occur under the current administration so far, a fact that badly undercuts the “greatest enemy” title, along with the reality that Greenwald, who published arguably the most damaging bombshells in recent years, hasn’t been touched.
Let’s take a look at the transparency charges from Greenwald’s link to The Washington Post.
—You Didn’t Hear It From Me. One reporter received word from a White House official that Obama “was briefed” on a breaking news story. The reporter was instructed that the information was provided on background. Weird and a bit excessive, but hardly a major trespass against press freedoms.
—Deep Throat. There have evidently been big meetings between White House officials and dozens of reporters in which information is provided on “deep background.” One instance was during the chaos surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing — a major homicide in progress. At the same time, in the rush to be the first to barnstorm across all social media platforms, a half-dozen of the biggest news sources fumbled the story, and yet again during the Navy Yard shooting.
—Yes, This One is About Wine. The third observation listed had to do with the White House not providing to reporters the wine list for state dinners. Stop the presses, they’re clearly covering up something huge.
Bloomberg White House correspondent Margaret Talev noted how the White House stopped giving details on the fine wines served at state dinners, an opaque measure that she exposed in this story.
—Ebola Victim in the Oval. Apparently it’s a major violation of the First Amendment to disallow questions of a woman who was just cured of Ebola and was visiting with the president in the Oval Office.
The article continues with several other similar stories. Even taken together, there’s just no fire there. Overall, it seems like an administration that’s desperately trying to control its message in an age of leaks and wild, click-bait sensationalism marketed by a financially-strapped establishment press. The administration has always had difficulty with messaging, occasionally fumbling stories, getting caught with its proverbial pants down, while failing to sufficiently get its message out in spite of the president’s stellar talent for oratory. Along those lines, all administrations attempt to control what information makes its way to the press. It’s a natural function of a highly visible and highly politicized machine that, when it pops a gasket or commits a gaffe, potentially impacts the entire free world, not to mention the fate of the stock exchange.
But beyond any deficiencies within the White House communications office, let’s talk about the aforementioned piss-poor condition of the modern press. Yes, it’s important for any public leadership post to cooperate with the press. Has the Obama White House been perfect on this front? Not entirely. Then again, no other president in this or any other generation has existed in this era of digital and social media. Not even George W. Bush, who only faced the likes of YouTube in his final two years. This is an important distinction and the rise and impact of digital media has been far-reaching and, in most cases, damaging to the integrity of the news.
We’re talking about a news media that routinely pinpoints non-stories because they’re potentially good for clicks and viral social media blitzes sadly inspired by superficial crapfests like Buzzfeed and Gawker. Even The Washington Post issued an internal memo recently that strategized about how to make its content more Buzzfeed-like. We’re talking about a news media that manufactures non-scandal scandals, while utterly ignoring stories that are vital to the national interest. We’re talking about a news media that not too long ago thoughtlessly cheer-led the invasion of Iraq then, just over ten years later, tried breathlessly to package the Ebola virus as a Summer disaster movie, complete with crazy-eyed “experts” drawing conclusions from fiction novels. We’re talking about a news media that now includes digital publications where revenue is drawn from side-boob photos rather than hard news, successfully squandering the sheer power and promise of the amazing technology at its disposal. We’re talking about a news media that made a huge stink out of the president’s tan suit.
The modern news media is a mess right now, and if reporters and publications want to be treated like grown-ups they have to stop acting like petulant tweens armed with Hello Kitty smartphones busily posting articles that are only a small step up from Snapchat. If the news media was really interested in being treated like a collective of intrepid super-serious journalists tenaciously discovering and presenting what’s truly important in accordance with its status as the only industry explicitly named in the Bill of Rights, then we’d be much better off as a nation. Instead, we’re force-fed news that panders to our worst instincts, and which therefore inflates the mundane and the inconsequential into earth-shattering breaking news and horserace bubble gum for countless cable news screechers, while the real stories with real consequences are buried or ignored — cycle after cycle after cycle, year after year. And if a president’s suit color is worthy of above-the-fold press coverage, it’s baffling how anyone can seriously argue that the press deserves more access to the behind-the-scenes minutia inside the west wing.
All told, if you’re still wondering why the modern news media is being treated like this, just watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report for a week and get back to me. And if you’re still confident enough with the preening, insubstantial goons that compose today’s news media, then by all means, line up with Risen and Greenwald.
The wine list? Really?
UPDATE: Attorney General Eric Holder spoke today about both the Risen and Rosen situations and declared that neither reporter will be going to jail.
Holder insisted, “Any reporter who is doing his or her job in gathering news is not going to go to jail as a result of that kind of activity.”
When asked about that specifically in the Risen case, Holder said he’s been in contact with RIsen’s lawyers and “if what we have talked about remains true, I think there’ll be a resolution of that that will be satisfactory to everyone.”