It’s not hard to see that President Donald Trump has been constantly attacked by the liberal media ever since his campaign started to gain traction during the 2016 presidential election cycle. As reported by Washington Times in March, that negative reporting hovers around 90 percent of the stories written about the president.
Whatever the reason, the Trump administration has experienced a very tenuous relationship with the establishment media. One might assume a president who has been the target of so much “fake news,” as he calls it, would do anything in his power to retaliate and stop the sources of negative reporting.
Well, that might not be Trump’s mode of operation, but it was for a different president.
As author and investigative reporter James Risen noted in a December 2016 opinion piece for The New York Times, if President Trump were to take up prosecuting journalists and their sources as his next pastime, former President Barack Obama would have given him the road map with which to do it.
Risen didn’t deny that Trump had taken his fair share of shots at the media, but he said it was important to point out that the previous occupant of the Oval Office was far worse at respecting the freedom of the press than any previous president in recent history.
In Obama’s eight years in the White house, Risen wrote, his administration “prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.
“Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.”
Risen, who now works for The Intercept, was himself the target of the Obama administration’s attacks against the media when he was with The Times. After a seven-year legal battle that reached the Supreme Court, the Obama Justice Department backed off.
“I experienced this pressure firsthand when the administration tried to compel me to testify to reveal my confidential sources in a criminal leak investigation,” he wrote. “The Justice Department finally relented — even though it had already won a seven-year court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court to force me to testify — most likely because they feared the negative publicity that would come from sending a New York Times reporter to jail.”
Interestingly and maybe unsurprisingly, Obama denied his administration was overzealous in prosecuting leaks.
“I think that when you hear stories about us cracking down on whistle-blowers or whatnot, we’re talking about a really small sample,” he told reporters in May 2016. “Some of them are serious where you had purposeful leaks of information that could harm or threaten operations or individuals who were in the field involved with really sensitive national security issues.”
But Leonard Downie, former executive editor at The Washington Post, said in a 2013 report for the Committee to Protect Journalists that Obama’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.”
If ever there was a president who needed to put a plug in the leaks coming from the White House, it presumably would be Trump.
The Hill reported in June that the Trump White House had been “plagued” by leaks of sensitive information.
“The unrelenting pace of unauthorized disclosures demonstrates how leaking is a feature, and not a bug, of the Trump White House — one that has caused constant distractions and sown distrust among the president’s staff,” the report said.
“Leaks occur in every White House, but the nature of recent disclosures differ from those that angered past presidents,” it said. “Disclosures over the past year and a half have often appeared intended to hurt internal rivals or the president himself rather than influence policy decisions.”
The issue reached another level with The New York Times’ publication Wednesday of an anonymously written Op-Ed titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”
Writing in the same publication two years ago, Risen expressed concern that since Obama had laid the groundwork for going after journalists and their sources, a “dangerous precedent” had been set that Trump might “exploit.”
He quoted Washington Post reporter Dana Priest as saying, “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.”
What a conundrum. Tyrants who prosecute members of the press to avoid transparency are one thing, and presidents who prosecute leakers of classified matters related to national security are quite another.
Again, if ever a president had cause to take extreme measures to stop White House leaks, it would be Trump. The liberal media can only hope he won’t follow Obama’s example.
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