Trump’s Not The First To Try To Control the Drip Drip Drip

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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.

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Obama and the media: a breakdown on both sides

President Obama takes the cake in complaining about the failure of the media to hold politicians accountable.

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After all, his administration has done all it can to stonewall and deceive the media.

On Monday, he made extensive remarks at a Washington, D.C. event for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting about the responsibilities of journalists. His comments, given his record of trying to thwart the media, were remarkable.

“Real people depend on you to uncover the truth,” he declared. “We should be held accountable…What we’re seeing right now does corrode our democracy and our society. When our elected officials and political campaigns become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what is true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make decisions on behalf of future generations.”

“The electorate… would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when the politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises that they can’t keep,” Obama said. “And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them… When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism. ”

Though he may well have intended his remarks to be a dig at media coverage of Donald Trump, Obama was a very strange messenger given his misstatements and resistance to media oversight.

After all, it was Obama who made the infamous comment about his Affordable Care Act: “If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.  The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.”

And it’s under the Obama administration that the government has set a dismal record of failing to provide information in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, many from journalists. People who have asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, a record, according to an Associated Press investigation.

In some FOIA cases, usually after news organizations filed expensive federal lawsuits, the Obama administration found tens of thousands of pages after it previously said it couldn’t find any, the AP said. The website Gawker, for example, sued the State Department in 2015 when it said it couldn’t find any emails an aide to Hillary Clinton and former deputy assistant secretary of state, had sent to reporters. It was only after the lawsuit was filed that the State Department found 90,000 documents about correspondence between the aide and reporters.

Since Obama became president, his administration has pursued an aggressive war against whistleblowers and leakers to the media, with more prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act than under all previous presidents combined.

And to top it all off, Obama proudly proclaimed in his Toner Prize remarks, “…something I’m really proud of is the fact that, if you go back and see what I said in 2007 and you see what I did, they match up,” a comment that, for some unexplainable reason, was met with applause by the fawning media in attendance.

Were they not aware of all the broken promises documented on the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact.

Maybe not. Maybe the mainstream media have been too busy serving as cheerleaders or protectors of the administration.

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Even the Washington Post story about his remarks at the Toner event , written by a reporter who covers the White House, was little more than a 510 word press release relaying Obama’s speech verbatim, devoid of any context.

Maybe they were busy writing impactful stories about the Kardashians, or a man dressed as a shark in Katy Perry’s Super Bowl half-time performance, or a 1000 word story about a campaign worker manhandling a Breitbart reporter at a Donald Trump event.