Obama Administration Is ‘Deeply Wary’ of the Press

A new report says that the Obama White House's attempts to control information to the media are "without precedent."

President Barack Obama enters the White House briefing room. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama enters the White House briefing room. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“The Obama administration’s aggressive war on leaks and other efforts to control information are without precedent, according to 30 experienced Washington journalists interviewed for a new report released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists,” the Committee reported on Thursday.

The report found that despite President Barack Obama’s promise to head the most open government in American history, White House policies have chilled the conversation between journalists and their sources.

“The report — ‘The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America,’ which is written by Leonard Downie Jr., former Washington Post executive editor and now the Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication — found that the administration’s prosecution of suspected leakers, combined with broad electronic surveillance programs, have left government officials deeply wary of talking to the press. . . .”

CPJ made a series of recommendations that accompany the report.

Shutdown Challenges WaPo’s Federal-Employee Columnist

When you write a column about federal employees, a decision to shut down the federal government — even if only partially — lands squarely on your beat. For Joe Davidson, author of “The Federal Diary” column in the Washington Post, the shutdown has meant more work, more readers and a challenge not to repeat himself.

“The government has attacked itself. It’s almost like the government has some flesh-eating disease,” Davidson told Journal-isms by telephone.

That’s the way Davidson framed the development in his column of Oct. 1, the day the consequences of congressional inaction began taking their toll:

The U.S. government attacked itself early Tuesday, shuttering much of its operation and forcing hundreds of thousands of federal employees from their workplaces,” the column began.

“Staff members had no choice but to surrender to the inaction of Congress, which could not agree on legislation to keep the government fully operational.

“Reports that Uncle Sam hung his head in shame could not be verified, but there certainly was reason for his elected leadership, particularly the right side of it, to be ashamed of their performance. . . .”

The column prompted a note from Donald E. Graham, chairman and CEO of the Washington Post Co. “saying it was the best piece in the paper that day,” Davidson told Journal-isms by telephone. “It was the day after the sale of the Post was finalized, so his note was particularly meaningful to me.”

Much of the coverage of the shutdown has been about partisan wrangling and gridlock. Some conservatives have argued that many Americans don’t perceive that their daily lives have been affected, and so the shutdown proves that we need less government. Others have said the media have not devoted enough attention to the shutdown’s effect on low-income people.

Davidson agrees that more can be reported about the effect of the shutdown on Head Start; the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and others that particularly affect people of color. However, he challenges those who say the government doesn’t matter as much as some think. “Then why is the House passing bills to restore various parts of it?” he asks.

In fact, Davidson wrote Monday, the stoppage is demonstrating just the opposite: “It shows people just what government does, even if you don’t realize it on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes you don’t appreciate something until you no longer have it,” he told Journal-isms.

Davidson, a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists who is a veteran of the Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Bulletin and other news organizations, began writing the Federal Diary column in 2008. The column has been a Post staple since Nov. 29, 1932.

Federal workers accounted in 2008 for about 27 percent of the jobs in Washington, but only 15 percent of federal employees are in the Washington area. Thus, there are opportunities nationwide and overseas to localize the story with fresh angles.

“You can do a number of stories about how federal employees are suffering during the shutdown, but it’s important for us as journalists to take the story further and get more in depth,” Davidson said.

On Tuesday, Davidson wrote a column on a development he described as counter-intuitive: Two Republican congressmen broke with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “by saying they would vote for a ‘clean CR,’ a temporary government funding measure not muddied by partisan attempts to defund or delay Obamacare.”

In the Oct. 1 column that Graham liked, Davidson went for another contradiction, comparing the level of activity in offices on the same floor:

“The quiet halls and empty cubicles in the Department of Housing and Urban Development provide stark evidence of the shutdown. Much of the building looked as if it had been hit by a strange force that vaporizes people while leaving their desks and the structure intact.

“The generally buzzing Dunkin’ Donuts store on the building’s third floor had customers, but it was unusually quiet. An adjacent snack shop was closed. The credit union down the hall, however, was busy as members got their money before the office closed. . . .”

They had no idea when they would be paid again.

D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center: How to get census data during the government shutdown

Tony Dokoupil, NBC News: ‘I won’t ever understand it’: Kin of fallen express grief, anger over death benefits

LZ Granderson, CNN: Stop demonizing people who need aid (Oct. 1)

Craig Harrington and Albert Kleine, Media Matters for America: REPORT: Nightly News Shutdown Coverage Shrugs Off Effects On The Poor

Julianne Malveaux, syndicated: U.S. Doesn’t Care about Poor People (Sept. 25)

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune: Mend Obamacare, don’t end it

Mark Trahant, indianz.com: Indian Country needs solution beyond shutdown

Jon Ward, HuffPost Black Voices: GOP Has Forgotten The Poor Once Again, Conservative Leader Says

Obama Fails to Call on TV Reporters at News Conference

It was like the feeling when a crowd figures out that a pitcher hasn’t given up a hit in 5 innings: during President Obama’s press conference on Tuesday, everyone suddenly started noticing that he wasn’t calling on any television reporters,” Jack Mirkinson reported Tuesday for the Huffington Post.

“This was intriguing; someone from NBC or CBS or ABC or CNN or Fox News can reliably expect to be granted a question, but Obama kept calling on people from places like Roll Call, and the Financial Times, and Agence France-Presse. (He also called on HuffPost’s Sam Stein.)

“People started noticing:

“It wasn’t clear how the stiffed journalists were feeling, but, [toward] the end of the press conference, the normally silent throng started shouting questions at Obama.

” ‘I’m just going through my list guys,’ Obama said. ‘Talk to Jay,’ ” a reference to his press secretary, Jay Carney.

Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: President Obama Holds Off-The-Record Meeting With Conservative Journalists

Josh Feldman, Mediaite: Brit Hume: Obama Deliberately Ignored Major Networks at Presser to Avoid Tough Questions

Erik Wemple blog, Washington Post: At Obama’s press conference, where’s the accountability?

N.Y. Times News-Page Policy: “Obamacare” in Quotes

A Times reader, Tom Bird, of East Lansing, Mich., raised a timely issue, given all that’s happening in Washington,” Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, wrote on Tuesday. “He wrote that other news organizations, including The Associated Press, are putting the expression ‘Obamacare’ in quotation marks, ‘signifying that it is not a neutral expression, but instead is political rhetoric that is being used in a partisan way.’ And he added, ‘When will The Times wake up?’ “

Sullivan also wrote, “I asked Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards, about the guidelines for the expression in the news pages. ‘For the most part, we have not used “Obamacare” as our standard term in news stories outside of quotations,’ he said. ‘Aside from the question of whether it’s politically charged, the term strikes me as informal — essentially a nickname — which is not our normal style for straight news articles. Most often we simply use a straightforward description, like “the health care law” or “the health care overhaul,” or occasionally the formal name, the Affordable Care Act.’

“However, in the opinion pages of The Times, where different style guidelines often apply, many examples crop up of Obamacare without quotation marks or description. . . .”

The comments section under Sullivan’s article indicated the range of views on the issue.

AP, NPR Curb Use of “Obamacare” Term (Oct. 2) 

“Redskins” Debate Said to Miss Diversity Among Indians

The name of a certain pro football team in Washington, D.C., has inspired protests, hearings, editorials, lawsuits, letters from Congress, even a presidential nudge,” Jesse Washington wrote Tuesday for the Associated Press. “Yet behind the headlines, it’s unclear how many Native Americans think ‘Redskins’ is a racial slur.

“Perhaps this uncertainty shouldn’t matter — because the word has an undeniably racist history, or because the team says it uses the word with respect, or because in a truly decent society, some would argue, what hurts a few should be avoided by all.

“But the thoughts and beliefs of native people are the basis of the debate over changing the team name. And looking across the breadth of Indian Country — with 2 million Indians enrolled in 566 federally recognized tribes, plus another 3.2 million who tell the Census they are Indian — it’s difficult to tell how many are opposed to the name.

“The controversy has peaked in the last few days. President Barack Obama said Saturday he would consider getting rid of the name if he owned the team, and the NFL took the unprecedented step Monday of promising to meet with the Oneida Indian Nation, which is waging a national ad campaign against the league.

“What gets far less attention, though, is this:

“There are Native American schools that call their teams Redskins. The term is used affectionately by some natives, similar to the way the N-word is used by some African-Americans. In the only recent poll to ask native people about the subject, 90 percent of respondents did not consider the term offensive, although many question the cultural credentials of the respondents.

“All of which underscores the oft-overlooked diversity within Indian Country. . . .”

Ken Belson, New York Times: Redskins’ Name Change Remains Activist’s Unfinished Business

Michael Calderone, Huffington Post: Washington Post ‘Redskins’ Column Includes Racially Charged Language Online, But Not In Print

Rob Capriccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network: Redskins Name-Change Symposium: Where Were Snyder and Goodell?

Chris Chase, USA Today: The Redskins are going to change their name, so deal with it

Gene Demby, “Code Switch” blog, NPR: An Uphill Battle To Push An NFL Team To Change Its Name

Howard Fendrich, Associated Press: Asked whether ‘Redskins’ should go, Goodell says NFL must make sure it does ‘what’s right’

Emil Guillermo, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education: Obama, Asian Americans Bring Controversy over Washington Football Team to its Peak

Indian Country Today Media Network: NCAI Salutes Obama & Says ‘Drop the ‘R’ Word!’

Roxanne Jones, CNN: Obama is right about ‘Redskins’

Ling Woo Liu, hyphenmagazine.com: The Washington Redskins Should Follow the Pekin Chinks and Fighting Coons and Change Their Name (Sept. 29)

Amy Stretten, Fusion: Appropriating Native American Imagery Honors No One but the Prejudice (Sept. 18)

David Weinberg, “Marketplace,” American Public Media: The cost of retiring a Native American mascot

Clinton Yates, Washington Post: An inclusive solution for D.C.’s NFL team name

Rene Sanchez Named Top Editor at Star Tribune

Rene Sanchez, a veteran journalist who has served as second in command of the Star Tribune newsroom for nearly six years, was named the newspaper’s new top editor Tuesday,” Pam Louwagie reported Wednesday for the Minneapolis newspaper.

“Sanchez, 48, said he is honored and grateful for the opportunity to lead the newsroom of the nation’s 12th-largest daily newspaper. Beginning Friday, he will take over the job of editor and senior vice president from Nancy Barnes, who was named editor in 2007 and is departing to become editor and executive vice president of news at the Houston Chronicle.

“At an afternoon meeting to announce the selection, Star Tribune Publisher Mike Klingensmith called Sanchez ‘a great journalist’ and said choosing him was ‘an endorsement of the course that we’ve been on here in recent years.’ “

Louwagie also wrote, “Sanchez, a New Orleans native, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University in New Orleans. He was a reporter for the Washington Post for 17 years prior to coming to the Star Tribune as a writer in 2004. Less than a year later, he was named Sunday editor. He later took on the roles of deputy managing editor and managing editor, where he oversaw metro, business and sports departments, as well as investigative and special projects. . . .”

At the Post, Sanchez was Los Angeles bureau chief for six years. He is of mixed ethnicity, having told Journal-isms, “I’m a mix of Spanish, French, German and Irish. I grew up in New Orleans, and you can track my family’s lineage there all the way back to the early 1800s. The first Sanchez in my family line came from Spain, and the [Sanchezes] afterward started marrying in the New Orleans melting pot of many different ethnicities … “