Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dammed Information

Yesterday, McClatchy DC featured a commentary written by Edward Wasserman for the Miami Herald on the continuation by the Obama administration of one of the Bush administration's most egregious faults: the control of information provided to the public. For all of his promises of a more transparent government, Barack Obama has not only embraced the Bush tactics of managing the flow of information, he has, in some instances, extended it.

In at least one area of political life the spirit of bipartisanship is strong, and the Obama administration has picked up pretty much where the Bush team left off.

That's in the realm of information control: treating the news media like a pestilence, using secrecy rules to stem inconvenient disclosures, ducking informed scrutiny in favor of staged encounters, punishing unauthorized leaks vigorously and generally regarding publicly significant information as something officials are entitled to handle as a political resource of their very own.

Wasserman provides a list of examples, including one that has to rank right up there with the worst of those from the Bush-Cheney administration for being downright stupid: national security really at stake in the prosecution of a former senior National Security Agency official named Thomas Drake? He was indicted in April for leaking classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter about several big NSA programs that, as The New York Times reported, "were plagued with technical flaws and cost overruns."

Surely secrecy laws aren't being applied to save face, are they?

Good question.

The answer probably explains why several journalists have been banned from Guantanamo Bay for doing their job too well and why the administration is only too happy to exclude reporters from coverage of the Gulf oil spill and its clean-up under threat of huge fines and imprisonment.

Yet the American press has been rather reticent to complain about the obstruction, something which Mr. Wasserman notes, but partially excuses. It is as if journalists became so accustomed to being used as stenographers for eight years that they've settled into continuing that role for at least another eight. It's the path of least resistance, even if it does mark a profound betrayal of the goals of a free press.

That said, however, at least Wasserman has noted the problem:

So the governmental overreaching continues. The temptation among those in power is to view themselves as the owners of public information when they are, in fact, only its custodians, and their job is to ensure its free flow. Obama pledged to roll back some of the harsher strictures of the Bush years, and it's a promise he has yet to deliver on.

Now, if only the press would push back we might get somewhere.

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Anonymous savetomdrake said...

Diane, thank you for your post.

For more information about NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake, visit the Save Tom Drake facebook page:

Follow Thomas Drake on twitter – savetomdrake

6:15 PM  

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