Former President Barack Obama’s denunciation of President Donald Trump’s treatment of the press overlooks the constant aggressive steps the Justice Department took to keep information from the public during his 8-year administration.
Obama said: “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.”
We’ll get to that false statement in just a moment.
The fact is that Trump may call out the press and call them fake news and enemy of the people, mostly because of their hit pieces and blatant false reporting, Obama went way farther — using extraordinary actions to block the flow of information to the public.
There are only two major actions that the Trump administration has taken. First, the Trump White House barred a CNN reporter from a Rose Garden event. Second, the Trump Justice Department seized electronic correspondences between New York Times reporter Ali Watkins and her ex-lover, former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James Wolfe.
Obama used Espionage Act ‘record amount’ to prosecute and spy on reporters
Presidents and attorneys general of both parties have been reluctant to use the Espionage Act when secret information has been leaked to the press because they have recognized that it is overbroad.
They have understood, as the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argues in his 1998 book “Secrecy,” that government classifies far too many things as secrets, even as it has often failed to protect information that truly needs to stay secret.
But not Obama, he went all in.
Since 2009, the Obama administration prosecuted seven people. that’s more people prosecuted as whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former presidents combined.
The Espionage Act was passed with bipartisan support in a Democratic Congress and strongly supported by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson wanted even more. “Authority to exercise censorship over the press is absolutely necessary,” he wrote a senator. He got that authority in May 1918 when Congress passed the Sedition Act criminalizing, among other things, “abusive language” about the government.
Wilson’s Justice Department successfully prosecuted Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate who received 900,000 votes for president in 1912, for making statements opposing the war.
The Wilson administration barred socialist newspapers from the mails, jailed a filmmaker for making a movie about the Revolutionary War (don’t rile our British allies) and prosecuted a minister who claimed Jesus was a pacifist.
German-language books were removed from libraries, German-language newspapers forced out of business and one state banned speaking German outdoors.
Things then changed after Wilson left office. A Republican Congress allowed the Sedition Act to expire in 1921.
Debs, who received 915,000 votes for president in 1920 while in Atlanta federal prison, was pardoned by Republican President Warren Harding (a former journalist) and invited to the White House.
The Espionage Act of 1917 remained on the books and was amended to cover news media. But it was used sparingly.
Franklin Roosevelt, who served in the Wilson administration, didn’t use it in World War II. When his attorney general urged him to prosecute the Chicago Tribune for a story three days before Pearl Harbor detailing military plans for a possible world war, he brushed the recommendation aside.
Roosevelt did order the internment of West Coast Japanese-Americans in 1942. But an act apologizing for that and providing restitution was passed with bipartisan majorities and signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Most tallies, like the one by the investigative service ProPublica, begin with Daniel Ellsberg and the release of the Vietnam War era documents known as the Pentagon Papers. Including Ellsberg, the government has used the Espionage Act 10 times to prosecute government workers who shared classified information with journalists. If we push back to 1945, there is one more case. So of those 11, seven have taken place while Barack Obama was president.
In 2009, the Obama White House excluded Fox News’ Chris Wallace from participating in a round of interviews pertaining to the president’s push for healthcare reform. Later that year, the admin tried to block Fox reporters from interviewing “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg. The White House initially lied about this, and many in the press went along with it. It wasn’t until 2011 that the public learned the truth of the Feinberg episode. An internal email dated Oct. 22, 2009, showed the White House director of broadcast media told Treasury officials specifically, “We’d prefer if you skip Fox please.”
Anita Dunn – The Obama White House communications director – said at the time, “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against President Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”
That language about “legitimate news organizations” and “opponents” is no different from the things Trump says.
In 2010, State Department contractor Stephen Kim was indicted for providing information about North Korea to Fox News. Later that year, Jeffrey Sterling, a Central Intelligence Agency officer, was indicted for sharing information with a journalist James Risen about America’s work to counter Iran’s nuclear program.
Later, in 2012, Fox was mysteriously excluded from a White House conference call pertaining to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Fox was also excluded from an all-network CIA briefing regarding the attacks.
In 2013, the Obama Justice Department labeled then-Fox News reporter James Rosen a “criminal co-conspirator” under the Espionage Act of 1917. And all because the reporter used a State Department contractor as a source for a story. Rosen was also labeled a “flight risk.”
The Justice Department seized the records of at least five phone lines connected to Fox News.
Obama’s Justice Department also secretly obtained Fox News journalist James Rosen’s phone records and tracked his arrivals and departures at the State Department through his security-badge use. The federal law enforcement agency even seized the phone records of Rosen’s parents. The FBI also got a warrant to search Rosen’s emails from 2010.
In 2013 the Obama administration obtained the records of 20 Associated Press office phone lines and reporters’ home and cell phones, seizing them without any notice whatsoever, compromising many sources totally unrelated to an investigation about a foiled al-Qaida terrorist plot. Federal investigators even collected data on calls made by AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery.
AP called the seizure a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its news-gathering activities, betraying information about its operations “that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
“The Obama administration,” The New York Times editorial board wrote at the time, “has moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.”
Law professor David Pozen at Columbia University has researched the culture of unauthorized disclosures in the nation’s capital and said generally, there was an uptick in these prosecutions on Barack Obama’s watch.
“There’s not really any doubt,” Pozen said.”The spirit of the assertion is correct.” (source: PolitiFact)
In 2014, the Obama administration set the record for denying the most Freedom of Information Act requests of any administration. It topped this feat in 2015.
The mainstream media choose to ignore the fact that Obama was more of a threat to the freedom of the press than what they claim president Trump has been.
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