NEW YORK -- Leonard Downie spent more than four decades at The Washington Post, including 17 years as the paper’s top editor, and has heard plenty of grumbling from reporters blocked from access to government information. “I’m used to journalists complaining,” he told HuffPost in an interview.
But after speaking to 30 veteran Washington journalists to prepare a Committee to Protect Journalists report, Downie said he was persuaded that concerns about lack of government transparency are legitimate. Those interviewed, he wrote, “could not remember any precedent” to the Obama administration’s aggressive crackdown on leaks and efforts to control information.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based journalist advocacy organization, released Downie’s findings Thursday in its first comprehensive look at press freedom in the United States: “The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America.”
For 32 years, the Committee to Protect Journalists has been better known for investigating press freedom under authoritarian governments, or where journalists are killed with impunity or in war zones. But this spring’s revelations about the Justice Department secretly seizing phone records at The Associated Press and obtaining a Fox News reporter’s email account have increased concerns closer to home.
Downie, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, expressed concerns in late May about the future of investigative reporting in light of the AP and Fox News revelations. Shortly after that, the Committee to Protect Journalists asked Downie to investigate. Downie in recent months spoke with journalists, government transparency advocates and current and former government officials.
In the report, Downie examined a range of Obama administration tactics that hinder government transparency. These include unprecedented use of the Espionage Act in prosecuting media leaks, classifying government documents as secret when no harm could come from their release, increased government surveillance that jeopardizes the safety of news sources, Freedom of Information Act violations, and White House-produced content that can't substitute for independent, accountability journalism.
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