After Leading The Attack On Investigative Journalism, President Obama Whines About A Lack Of Investigative Journalism
from the really-now? dept
On Monday, President Obama gave a speech about journalism in Washington DC, in which he bemoaned the state of investigative journalism today, suggesting that the lack of good investigative journalism is partly to blame for the mess that is this year’s Presidential election season:
A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened. It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep. (Applause.) And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them. I know that’s a shocking concept that politicians would do that. But without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word. When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.
There’s plenty in the speech that I certainly agree with. The state of media coverage that has moved towards shallow entertainment and he said/she said journalism is sad. And it’s good that the President called out that kind of stuff as well:
I think the electorate would be better served if we spent less time focused on the he said/she said back-and-forth of our politics. Because while fairness is the hallmark of good journalism, false equivalency all too often these days can be a fatal flaw. If I say that the world is round and someone else says it’s flat, that’s worth reporting, but you might also want to report on a bunch of scientific evidence that seems to support the notion that the world is round. And that shouldn’t be buried in paragraph five or six of the article.
He also highlighted some strong investigative reporting from the past and claims he’s dismayed that we’re seeing less of that today:
Whether it was exposing the horrors of lynching, to busting the oil trusts, to uncovering Watergate, your work has always been essential to that endeavor, and that work has never been easy. And let’s face it, in today’s unprecedented change in your industry, the job has gotten tougher.
But he leaves out his own administration’s actions as a big part of why the job of reporting has “gotten tougher.” While he came into office promising “the most transparent administration in history” and one of his first official actions as President was to tell the entire federal government to default to revealing information in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, as we’ve detailed over and over again, the administration has actually been one of the most opaque, setting records for denying FOIA requests, and making it nearly impossible to get any information out of the government without a lawsuit.
Former NY Times Executive Editor, Jill Abramson, who’s worked in journalism in DC for decades, noted that the Obama administration was the most secretive, by far.
“I would say it 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,” Abramson told Al Jazeera America in an interview that will air on Sunday.
And part of her complaint was not just in how the administration refuses to reveal anything, but also in how vindictive the White House was against reporters and sources.
The AP’s Washington chief of bureau, Sally Buzbee, said the Obama administration’s efforts to control information extend even to agencies not directly involved in intelligence gathering. Some sources, she said, have reportedly been warned they could be fired for even talking to a reporter.
“Day-to-day intimidation of sources is also extremely chilling,” she said.
Buzbee said she’s frequently asked if the Obama administration, when it comes to transparency, is worse than the administration of President George W. Bush.
“Bush was not fantastic,” she said. She added, “The (Obama) administration is significantly worse than previous administrations.”
And then, of course, there are the criminal lawsuits. The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act against more journalists and leakers than every other President in history combined… and doubled. And, as of two years ago, he had put media leakers in jail for nearly 50 times as long as all other administrations combined.
That is not supporting investigative reporting. That is threatening and intimidating journalists and their sources. Creating true chilling effects and scaring people away from doing the very work that the President insists the media should be practicing.
Way back in 2011, I saw Daniel Ellsberg speak, and he speculated that a key reason why President Obama was so incredibly hostile to a free and open press was because he was embarrassed by his own actions that they were investigating. Ellsberg pointed out that the previous president, George W. Bush was known for widely abusing the power of his position, but he seemed proud of doing so. President Obama, on the other hand, got elected with promises of moving away from such abuses and restoring civil liberties. But that didn’t happen. Things went in the other direction under his watch and his command. So you could understand why the President remains less than keen about leaks and the media digging into things like mass surveillance of Americans, or secret drone bombing campaigns.
It’s a shame that the President feels the need to berate reporters over failing to do real investigative reporting, when a big part of the issue is his own administration’s concerted effort to make that much more difficult.