A hat-tip to Jack Ohman, editorial cartoonist at the Sacramento Bee.
Oh, man, did he nail this one:
(I just don’t know why he had to depict the AP “desk man” as an out-of-shape, stressed white guy with his tie at half-mast. Oh, wait. . .)
By Christopher B. Daly
Today brings more disappointing news about the Obama administration. As they spend more years in office, they are starting to revert to the mean and resemble a very ordinary power-grabbing, rights-trampling, self-serving operation. Alas.
While they have been busy not closing Guantanamo, this administration has been busy setting the all-time record for leaks investigations. The latest misguided attempt to stop leaks is the disclosure that the Obama Justice Dept. “secretly seized two months of phone records for reporters and editors of The Associated Press.” The rationale was that the AP had received a “leak” from someone in the government about a CIA operation to disrupt a plot unfolding in Yemen that was aimed at taking down an airliner. If true, that was a fine thing for the CIA to do. If true, then the folks in the CIA running the operation should have kept their mouths shut. If someone in the government who had knowledge of it spilled the beans, that’s not the fault of journalists. The Obama administration, like every other administration, needs to get its own house in order. You don’t stop leaks by trampling the First Amendment.
Instead, we get this (from NYT):
The A.P. said that the Justice Department informed it on Friday that law enforcement officials had obtained the records for more than 20 telephone lines of its offices and journalists, including their home phones and cellphones. It said the records were seized without notice sometime this year. The organization was not told the reason for the seizure.
The First Amendment exists to safeguard the right of the American people to be informed. The only known means to provide the kind of information we need to govern ourselves comes from a free and independent press, which is protected in its new-gathering every bit as much as it is protected in its news-telling. If the executive branch investigates the news media every time its own employees leak information, that cannot help but have a “chilling effect” on the news business.
This is ancient truth, going back at least as far as the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. If Obama does not want to go down in history in the same chapter with Richard Nixon, he has got to cut this stuff out. He could start by firing Attorney General Eric Holder.
Memo to the AP: The government got all those phone records from your telephone company. I would suggest you cancel your account and try a different carrier.
Hat-tip: to NYT’s Charlie Savage, who seems to have staked out a new beat: reporting on the constitutional infringements and other abuses of power committed by the Obama administration.
Obligatory quote: Here’s Thomas Jefferson on the dangers of executive power:
"Aware of the tendency of power to degenerate into abuse, the worthies of our country have secured its independence by the establishment of a Constitution and form of government for our nation, calculated to prevent as well as to correct abuse." --Thomas Jefferson to Washington Tammany Society, 1809.
Clarification: Of course, what the administration objects to are unauthorized leaks. The leaks they plan and execute for their own purposes are, naturally, quite alright.
By Christopher B. Daly
The recent dust-up between Bob Woodward and the Obama White House has now entered the phase where everyone is wondering what all the fuss was about. It has gone in record time from sounding like a scandal to sounding like a big nothing. Woodward, of all people, should know when he is being threatened by the White House, as he and Bernstein famously were threatened in 1972-3 while reporting on the Nixon gang.
From today’s Times:
His feud with an unnamed official, first reported in Politico, which said Mr. Woodward clearly saw the administration’s choice of words “as a veiled threat,” initially drew cheers from many conservative commentators and bewilderment from many Washington reporters who wondered whether Mr. Woodward was being a tad oversensitive.
In an interview later on Thursday, Mr. Woodward emphasized that he had not said he felt threatened. “I never said it was a threat,” he said, but added that he still had concerns about how the administration handled criticism. “We live in a world where they don’t like to be challenged, particularly when the political stakes are so high,” he said.
Christopher B. Daly
As so often happens, Monday morning brings a bunch of things to consider:
–The White House press corps is pissed about being kept away from Obama and Tiger Woods. Rightly so. Why schlep to Florida if you can’t go golfing?
–David Carr has a fascinating example of what I like to call The Power of Reporting. He tells how one reporter got out of the office to examine the apparent truth of a dramatic photo.
–The new Polk Awards are out (they are something like the Golden Globes vis-a-vis the Academy Awards). 2012 was a good year to be reporting about the inexplicable fortunes amassed by the families of some of China’s most powerful men. Among the winners: David Corn of Mother Jones (for breaking the story about Mitt Romney’s fateful “47 percent” comment) and David Barboza of the New York Times for his series from China “Princelings.” Congrats to all winners. Good luck in the competition for the Pulitzer Prizes (due out in April).
–The NYTimes Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, continues to explore the dust-up between Times auto writer John Broder and the head of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk.
[Full disclosure: I am wildly biased on this issue by my desire to own a Tesla some day.]
By Christopher B. Daly
Slowly, but perhaps inevitably, President Obama is yielding to public pressure and taking baby steps toward the transparency he promised all along. He has said he will allow the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to look at the legal memo that purports to justify the administration’s policy of killing Americans overseas under certain conditions using unmanned drones.
Can a leak of the document be far behind?
Even after that happens (as seems equally inevitable), I want to know:
–What authorizes Obama to make this policy on his own?
–What authorizes Obama to pick the targets for assassination?
–What authorizes Obama to hide this policy and dribble it out only when cornered by the people?
He was supposed to be a leader in the campaign for transparency, not a reluctant truant. Oh, well. Sometimes the people have to lead the leaders.
By Christopher B. Daly
Sadly, the Obama administration is continuing to drag its heels in releasing the rationale for its policy of killing people — including American citizens — with drones. No one is asking Obama to reveal any operational secrets. But every American, including every member of the Democratic Party, should demand the instant release of the policy, which is still being kept an official secret. If Obama and his team can find a justification for his policy under the U.S. Constitution and/or international law, so be it. I want to examine it and decide for myself.
What is intolerable is the idea that the president can assume the power to order executions without bringing charges, holding a trial, or offering any other safeguards. His policy, so far, is “trust me” — which is tantamount to repealing the rule of law and substituting personal power. He is taking on the role of the tyrant who says of his perceived enemies, “Off with his head!” Obviously, if George W. Bush did something like this, liberals would react with outrage. For the same reasons, Obama’s actions to date have been equally outrageous. The American people have not only a right but a responsibility to know what is being done in our name.
It doesn’t matter if the cause is just or if his intentions are good. If he operates outside the law, then he’s a tyrant.
Luckily, someone leaked the Justice Dept “white paper” about drone executions to NBC News. That is a description of the policy, not the policy itself.
Today’s Times has a good package of pieces, including:
–a triple-byline page 1 lead story, (dateline: SANA, Yemen),
–a double-byline analysis of the legal situation (in which the Times downplays its own FOIA suit), a note from the paper’s Public Editor,
–a full-blown expert debate,
–graphics, video, and more.
It should also be noted that many others are reporting on this (a hat-tip to the Washington Post), or suing over it (a hat-tip to the ACLU), or waging a political fight against the administration (oh, wait: no one is!).
This is not over.
Here is the main takeaway from the legal piece, which begins by noting that Obama rejected the Bush administration’s decision to shroud its torture policy in secrecy:
In the case of his own Justice Department’s legal opinions on assassination and the “targeted killing” of terrorism suspects, however, Mr. Obama has taken a different approach. Though he entered office promising the most transparent administration in history, he has adamantly refused to make those opinions public — notably one that justified the 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed an American, Anwar al-Awlaki. His administration has withheld them even from the Senate and House intelligence committees and has fought in court to keep them secret, making any public debate on the issue difficult.
By Christopher B. Daly
Bully for the NYTimes for continuing to try to pry out the details of the Obama administration’s secret policy governing the secret use of drone weapons.
No surprise: the New York Times, whose reporters filed a FOIA request in this case, agrees with me that the Obama administration has engaged in excessive secrecy around the legal rationale for its drone program.
Here’s the Times editorial:
Misplaced Secrecy on Targeted Killings
For years, President Obama has been stretching executive power to claim that the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda gives him the unilateral authority to order people killed away from any battlefield without judicial oversight or public accountability — even when the target is an American citizen.
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Manhattan came down on the side of preserving secrecy regarding how this dangerous view of executive power gets exercised. Judge Colleen McMahon refused to require the Justice Department to disclose a memorandum providing the legal justification for the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
The decision came in response to a lawsuit for the memorandum and related materials filed under the Freedom of Information Act by The New York Times and two of its reporters, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, and also a broader request under the act from the American Civil Liberties Union. We strongly disagree with Judge McMahon’s conclusion that she was compelled by a “thicket of laws and precedents” to deny access to the legal memo — prepared by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel — and other documents that provided the legal and factual basis for the killings.
For starters, various government officials have spoken publicly about the American role in killing Mr. Awlaki and the circumstances under which the government considers targeted killings, including of American citizens. At President Obama’s nominating convention last summer, a video prepared by his campaign listed the killing of Mr. Awlaki prominently among Mr. Obama’s national security achievements.
Such a selective and self-serving “public relations campaign,” as the judge termed it, should have been deemed a waiver of the government’s right to withhold its legal rationale from public scrutiny. Moreover, disclosing the document would not have jeopardized national security or revealed any properly classified operational details. The ruling, which is inconsistent with the purpose and history of the information disclosure law, richly deserves overturning on appeal.
However, we appreciate Judge McMahon’s honest recognition of the “Alice-in-Wonderland nature” of her decision, which allows the executive branch to publicly proclaim the legality of the targeted killing program while insisting that the public may not know the reasons for that conclusion. The administration has opposed all legal efforts by Mr. Awlaki’s father and others to compel a court review of the decision to have him killed.
Judge McMahon took pains to acknowledge the serious questions the targeted killing program raises about the appropriate limits on government authority in our constitutional system and expressed the view that, as a matter of policy, the administration’s legal analysis should be made public.
“More fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning on which the administration relies to justify the targeted killing of individuals, including united States citizens, far from any recognizable ‘hot’ field of battle, would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated,” the judge wrote.
President Obama, who pledged more government transparency in his first campaign and early days in office, should heed those sentiments and order the legal memo released along with other information that would shed light on the government’s legal reasoning and the evidence leading to Mr. Awlaki’s killing.
It is past time he did so.
By Christopher B. Daly
I am disappointed in President Obama over his insistence on shrouding his drone program in secrecy. It is one thing to keep quiet about the operations of a quasi-military, semi-secret technology such as the drones that have emerged as the leading weapon in the “war on terror” that Obama inherited from George W. Bush. But there is no reason that justifies keeping quiet about the legal rationale for such a program. When drones are used in countries against which we have not declared war, and particularly when they are used to kill American citizens overseas, I believe the people of the United States are not only entitled to an explanation, we have a duty to know what is being done in our name. If Obama has a good reason for his drone program that squares with the Constitution, fine. If he does not, then he should admit it and seek another way.
But as things stand, we cannot even have a debate over the wisdom of the program, because the White House won’t allow it. As the Times reports today, a federal judge in Manhattan threw up her hands in frustration over the secrecy but had to conclude that, under law, she could not force the administration to divulge anything. Judge Colleen McMahon issued a ruling (see page 3) in a FOIA request filed by two of the Times‘ own reporters, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane. Good for them for trying to get the Obama folks on the record. And shame on the administration (DOJ, DOD, and CIA) for keeping the reason for their secret program secret. What do we have a Freedom of Information Act for, if not for situations like this?
As matters stand, the president won’t deny that the program exists, and he won’t stop it. But he won’t explain it either. Meanwhile, the drone strikes continue. There are reports of successes in places like Waziristan and Yemen. But, as the president, who watches “Homeland,” must realize, the drone program continues to make new enemies every day who must blame Americans for keeping a government in power that would do such things.
Don’t get me wrong: I have an open mind about the drone strikes, but I find this secrecy intolerable.
By Christopher B. Daly
The recent massacre of innocents at a school in Connecticut is bound to spur a renewal of debate over gun control. Based on President Obama’s comments on Friday, it appears likely that — finally — something might happen. If you are reporting on that issue, or just reading about it, the dialogue could be elevated if the reporting were deepened.
One place to start: the highly worthwhile site Journalist’s Resource, sponsored by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Here is a page of results from a keyword search for “gun control.”
It is a start toward bringing the best of fact-based research to bear on this enormous problem.