Media are joining in on the hysteria about the Trump Administration’s efforts to control federal government communications.
“Federal agencies are clamping down on public information and social media in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, limiting employees’ ability to issue news releases, tweet, make policy pronouncements or otherwise communicate with the outside world, according to memos and sources from multiple agencies,” Politico reported today, Jan. 25.
Willamette Week jumped on the bandwagon today as well, telling readers, “Send us tips, oppressed comrades!”
“Got information that would make a great story, but worried about revealing who you are? (Because you work for, say, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump?) WW has two new ways to send tips without disclosing your identity,” WW said.
“It’s a dark time right now,” because of Trump Administration restrictions on the use of social media and other channels by government employees, a former Obama administration spokeswoman told Politico. “From what we can tell, the cloud of Mordor is descending across the federal service,” added Jeff Ruch, executive director of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Before everybody goes off the deep end on all this, assuming it’s something new under the sun with the evil Trump, let’s step back a bit.
Every administration in recent memory has tried mightily to control the flow of information it doesn’t want disclosed from its agencies, with varying degrees of success.
In 1962, President Kennedy approved the wiretapping of a New York Times reporter and then set in motion Project Mockingbird, illegal CIA domestic surveillance on American reporters.
Richard Nixon fought leaks to the media with a vengeance. After an initial honeymoon with the media, he later distrusted them and fought them tooth and nail, believing coverage of him was deeply biased. And, frankly, it was. As Politico’s John Aloysius Farrell wrote in 2014, “Just because he was paranoid doesn’t mean the media wasn’t out to get him.”
A recent report commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists blasted the Obama administration for being overly aggressive in controlling government communications with the media, too, saying its information disclosure policies had a“…chilling effect on accountability.”
“The war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” said Leonard Downie, a former Washington Post executive who authored the study.
David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, said in the report: “This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
The report told of how the Obama administration used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute leakers and created the “Insider Threat Program” requiring government employees to help prevent leaks to the media by monitoring their colleagues’ behavior.
The report also described how the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed and seized all the records for 20 Associated Press telephone lines and switchboards for two months of 2012, after an AP investigation into a covert CIA operation in Yemen.
“Put all these together and it paints a pretty damning picture of an administration that talks about openness and transparency but isn’t willing to engage with the media around these issues,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
So before everybody goes ballistic, singling out Trump’s efforts to tightly manage public pronouncements and minimize leaks, consider that he’s part of a long line of presidents who have fought hard to do the same.
That’s just a fact. Depressing, isn’t it.