Upon finding itself a target of the administration’s spying program, the establishment press suddenly disapproves of the president’s record on “civil liberties, transparency, press freedoms, and a whole variety of other issues on which he based his first campaign,” Glenn Greenwald writes in The Guardian.
Greenwald says he laughed out loud when he read a Washington Post article that opens with high moral concern over the president’s policies of secrecy and spying:
“President Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer who came to office pledging renewed respect for civil liberties, is today running an administration at odds with his résumé and preelection promises.
“The Justice Department’s collection of journalists’ phone records and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups have challenged Obama’s credibility as a champion of civil liberties - and as a president who would heal the country from damage done by his predecessor.”
As a result of these controversies, Greenwald writes that “there is an undeniable and quite substantial sea change in how the establishment media is thinking and speaking about Obama.” Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei, “the ultimate purveyors of Beltway media conventional wisdom,” as Greenwald calls them, Tuesday published an article headlined “DC turns on Obama.” Dan Balz, The Washington Post’s political reporter and another conventional wisdom “bellwether,” wrote that the controversies “reflect questions about the administration that predate the revelations of the past few days.” And Tuesday, in an article about the DOJ snooping on the AP and the president’s war on whistle-blowers, The New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that Obama’s is “turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and of unprecedented attacks on a free press.”
“This isn’t just about press rights. It’s about the right of citizens to know what their government is doing. In an atmosphere of secrecy and punishment—despite the hollow promises of transparency—that’s getting harder every day,” she added.
Those are just a few of the denunciations from establishment quarters that are generally “sympathetic to and supportive of Obama,” according to Greenwald. But even the circles most loyal to Obama are not immune to the rage the media is expressing. Journalist Jonathan Alter, “who has literally written books using what he touts as his ‘unmatched access’ that are paens [sic] to Obama’s greatness and Goodness, [Tuesday] demanded: ‘Obama should simply apologize to the AP and its reporters. It’s the least he can do to show he still believes in the First Amendment,’ ” Greenwald notes.
There are two significant points to make from these events. First, it is remarkable how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as “cruel and inhuman”.
But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration’s true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as “regular Americans”. Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman - once the most vocal defender of Bush’s vast warrantless eavesdropping programs - suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.
Leave to the side how morally grotesque it is to oppose rights assaults only when they affect you. The pragmatic point is that it is vital to oppose such assaults in the first instance no matter who is targeted because such assaults, when unopposed, become institutionalized. Once that happens, they are impossible to stop when - as inevitably occurs - they expand beyond the group originally targeted. We should have been seeing this type of media outrage over the last four years as the Obama administration targeted non-media groups with these kinds of abuses (to say nothing of the conduct of the Bush administration before that). It shouldn’t take an attack on media outlets for them to start caring this much.
Second, we yet again see one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy: the way in which it has transformed and degraded so many progressive precincts. Almost nobody is defending the DOJ’s breathtaking targeting of AP …
… But there are a few people excusing or outright defending the DOJ here: namely, some progressive blogs and media outlets. They are about the only ones willing to defend this sweeping attempt to get the phone records of AP journalists.