WASHINGTON – The war on news leaks by President Barack Obama’s administration is becoming a threat to press freedom and democracy, a media watchdog group said Thursday.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a report based on interviews with dozens of experienced news professionals, said the president’s actions have been in sharp contradiction to his promise of transparency and open government.
The report on the United States is unusual for the press freedom group, which has this year completed investigations on Myanmar, China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Tanzania. The only time the United States has been the subject of a CPJ report was 19 years ago, in a study on attacks on immigrant journalists.
CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said the group decided to investigate U.S. press freedom “because journalists told us that the relationship with the administration had deteriorated to the point where it makes it difficult for them to do their job.”
Leonard Downie, a former Washington Post executive editor and author of the report, said he learned that “administration officials and employees are increasingly afraid to talk to the press” due to heightened scrutiny of leaks.
He said this is in large part due to efforts to prosecute six government employees and two contractors — including former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden — under the 1917 Espionage Act.
He said this is a chilling use of a law, used “only in three previous cases in the past nine decades.”
Downie said the Obama administration’s “war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”