Obama and legacy of journalism

From Twitter:@jswatz: Obama said this tonight about journalism.

If anyone remembers smart investigative journalism then.

People are also not likely to remember who was number 1, or 2, or 3 on the Open Parachute blog pecking order either. But they are more likely to remember significant turning points like Dirty Politics.

In response to the above tweet:

Heidi N Moore@moorehn Related: ‘The Greatest Enemy of Press Freedom in a Generation’ (David A. Graham at The Atlantic):

A New York Times reporter’s accusation that the Obama administration engages in censorship raises questions about when journalism slides into advocacy.

Many reporters have contentious relationships with sources and with the government, but James Risen is in a class of his own. The veteran New York Times national-security reporter has scored some notable scoops the authorities didn’t want him to—most notably about a failed CIA sabotage operation on Iran’s nuclear program. When Risen got the story the first time, the government convinced TheTimes to quash it for national-security reasons. (He eventually published it in a book).

The CIA thought it knew who leaked the info, and it subpoenaed Risen to reveal his source. Demanding this of a journalist is technically legal, but is highly unusual and often frowned-upon. Risen refused to divulge the source and said he’d go to jail instead, setting up a long showdown with the Justice Department. Ultimately, Risen won. Under pressure, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed, ambiguously, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” Risen testified, refusing to name his source, and the Justice Department still managed to convict Jeffrey Sterling for leaking. Everyone else lived happily ever after.

A number of tweets from Risen:

Given Holder’s speech today, I repeat: The Obama Administration is the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.

Eric Holder has been the nation’s top censorship officer, not the top law enforcement officer.

Eric Holder has sent a message to dictators around the world that it is okay to crack down on the press and jail journalists.

Eric Holder leaves behind a wrecked First Amendment.

I plan to spend the rest of my life fighting to undo damage done to press freedom in the United States by Barack Obama and Eric Holder.


Whether or not Risen is substantively correct about the Obama administration being the worst on press freedom in a generation is a different question, and the answer is likely to vary based on who you ask. Besides political activism, reporters tend to stay away from stories in which they’re directly implicated, since it tends to shape their perception.

But Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan took the somewhat counterintuitive stand that this makes it more important for him to lead: “Because of his personal experiences, someone like James Risen has an obligation to speak out strongly on press rights.”

There are of course good reasons why the government would wish to reduce leaking, but it’s also an essential outlet for whistleblowers. Leaks lubricate the machinery of free press.

Meanwhile, the White House has been working on a whole slate of methods for bypassing reporters—or at least national political reporters. That means disseminating information directly to the public through videos, White House blogs, and Medium, and granting interviews to late-night shows, local journalists, and YouTube celebrities rather than to folks like, well, The New York Times’ James Risen. President Obama has given notably few press conferences.

How does this compare to New Zealand?

Prime Minister John Key seems fairly accessible to media and to the public – but is this just when it suits him?

How much does he and his comms team play the media and suppress information they don’t want aired in public?

How closely  was Key to Jason Eade and Cameron Slater and their Dirty Politics?

How much is the Official Information Act abused by Government ministers?

There is always going to be reason to query what is happening and there is always going to be room for improvement with Government transparency, with eternal vigilance required to hold our politicians to account.