Obama administration’s ‘censorship’ threatens free press, say journalists

SPJ, Daily Signal

A coalition of more than 40 journalism and open-government advocacy groups released an open letter to President Obama this week, urging him to curb systemic censorship within his administration and the federal government.

Announced Tuesday, the letter chastised the president for failing to live up to his own promises, and endangering the critical role of a free press in a free society.

“The stifling of expression is happening,” the letter states, “despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring ‘a new era of openness.’”

A recent Gallup poll finds that Americans’ confidence in each of the three major media platforms—television news, newspapers and Internet news—has plummeted to record lows.

When asked to identify from a list of 17 vital American institutes which they had a “great deal” or “quite a-lot” of confidence in, more than a thousand participants ranked the three platforms consistently below par.

Television news, the most prominent medium, has fallen to a historic new low. In 1993, at the beginning of the Clinton administration, 66 percent of Americans expressed confidence in TV news. Now only 22 percent place their confidence there—a four-point plummet from last year.

Confidence in American newspapers has fallen to less than half of what it used to be at its apex. In 1979, 51 percent of Americans placed their confidence in print institutions, but today only 22 percent express confidence in newspapers.

While news sites have reached newfound prominence on the Internet, their confidence ratings continue to lag behind. Internet news sources garnered 22 percent of American’s confidence in 1999 at Gallup’s only previous measure. Fifteen years later, confidence remains anemic at 19 percent.

A joint survey by the Brookings Institution and Public Religion Research Institute reveals more Americans place their trust in Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart than MSNBC.

The journalists’ letter decried and outlined dubious federal policies and practices designed to limit the free flow of information. Providing general examples and specific instances, the letter denounced such practices as vetting journalist questions, monitoring interviews, and stemming access to government officials.

The coalition characterized “these restrictions a form of censorship—an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.”

David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalist, heralded the letter as a historic development. In a press release, Cuillier wrote that “Never before has such a broad-based coalition of journalism and good-governance organizations spoken out on this issue.”

This sentiment resonates with Geoffrey Lysaught, group vice president of strategic communications at The Heritage Foundation. Lysaught explained that the administration’s continued “efforts to hide the facts for political gain” threatens the existence of free society.

Though sympathetic, Lysaught doubts the efficacy of the coalition’s mild diplomatic approach. Instead, he called on journalists to “take on big government and tell the truth.”

“The question is not whether Obama will acquiesce it’s whether media leaders and journalist will have the courage to take him on in public,” Lysaught said.

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