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by Clarence Page
Despite what you may hear from some of his more fevered critics, President Barack Obama's recent scandal-quakes don't appear to fall anywhere near the level of Richard Nixon's Watergate disaster. But by another Nixonian yardstick, trying to put a muzzle on press freedoms, Team Obama appears to have surged into the lead.
I'm talking about the
Plugging up leaks has returned as the alleged mission of the current
A week earlier, the
So much for the promise on President Obama's transition website to strengthen "whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers." Since then, his administration has been more likely than any of its predecessors to try to silence and prosecute federal workers.
The Espionage Act was used only three times to bring cases against government officials accused of leaking classified information to the media before President Obama took office. It has since been used six times. So far.
No one should be surprised, says attorney James Goodale, since Obama has relentlessly pursued leakers ever since he became president. "He is fast becoming," Goodale writes in the Daily Beast website, "the worst national security press president ever, and it may not get any better."
Worse than Nixon? Goodale ought to know. He was the general counsel for the
Forty-two years later, Goodale has written a new book, "Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles," just in time for a new wave of leak-plugging questions in the post-Sept. 11 era.
Full disclosure: Goodale and I also happen to be members of the board of directors of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The board has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, joining other press freedom organizations in voicing our objections to "unnecessary government intrusion" in the work of journalists.
Future efforts to obtain phone records or other information essential to newsgathering, the letter asks, "should be communicated to the news organization in advance so that the action can be challenged in court as justice demands."
That's been standard practice in the past under
Besides, it's probably not going to hurt Obama much politically. Hating leaks and the media are a bipartisan pastime for politicians, especially presidents. The AP seizures, for example, came after outraged Republican lawmakers demanded action to find the leakers of a foiled plot by al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen.
Republicans suspected the leaks may have come from somewhere close to the Oval Office, since it revealed a counterterrorism success that the Obama administration was not at all unhappy to let the public know about. That would not be surprising. But sometimes the public needs to know what the government is not happy to let you know about.
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On Press Freedoms, Obama Races Nixon to Bottoms | Politics