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


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.

Dear Carly: let’s talk

Dear Carly,

Carly Fiorina at the Sept. 16 GOP debate

Carly Fiorina at the Sept. 16 GOP debate

You’re probably feeling pretty good right now about your much-praised performance at the marathon Republican debate on Sept. 16. But before you settle in with a self-congratulatory attitude that you must have done everything right, let’s talk about what you said about dealing with Vladimir Putin.

“Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him,” you said defiantly, when the discussion turned to foreign policy. “Russia is a bad actor…”

Your campaign then doubled down, sending out a tweet, “Putin won’t listen to talk. We need leadership and resolve. Pitch in $3.”

Wrong, Carly. Wrong.

That kind of blunt rhetoric may be red meat to the crowd, but it’s a simplistic, wrongheaded and potentially dangerous approach to foreign policy.

Despite their antipathy to communism and hostility toward the Soviet Union, Republican Presidents Nixon and Ford and Democrat Carter all talked with their Soviet adversaries and signed strategic-arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union.

Though he denounced the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” Reagan kept open the lines of communication. Should Reagan, often praised for bringing the Cold War to an end, not have talked to the Soviets?

President Ronald Reagan visiting Berlin in 1987, where he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

President Ronald Reagan visiting Berlin in 1987, where he said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

As Strobe Talbott, who served as Deputy Secretary of State from 1994-2001, said, in his efforts to drive the Soviet Union to a more accommodating direction, Reagan emerged “as an archpragmatist and operational optimist who adjusted his own attitudes and conduct in order to encourage a new kind of Kremlin leader.”

Sure, there are times when talking or negotiating with adversaries is the wrong move. But refusing to talk with an adversary under any circumstances is not a viable option.

In the Cuban missile crisis, for example, had President Kennedy obstinately refused to negotiate with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, a nuclear war might have been the outcome.

President Kennedy addressing the nation on the Cuban missile crisis

President Kennedy addressing the nation on the Cuban missile crisis

Would we really be better off today if President Nixon and Henry Kissinger had refused to talk with Chinese leaders and, instead, tried to isolate China and keep it from the world stage?

President Richard Nixon toasts with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in February 1972 in Beijing

President Richard Nixon toasts with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in February 1972 in Beijing

Foreign policy experts argue that America’s 21st century “War on terror” has overemphasized military responses and ignored the potential of diplomacy and that this had had “profound effects in misdirecting American power, alienating allies and discrediting worthy goals, including democratization and development.”

“Diplomacy include coercion and threats,” the experts note, “but it also requires discussion and room for bargaining between participants.”

So, before you get too far down this anti-talk road, take a breather and look at history. America will be best served by a president who acknowledges that we need to engage the world’s nations, both our allies and our adversaries. As John Donne put it so simply and eloquently:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.


Thanks for your time,


Bill MacKenzie