After Leading The Attack On Investigative Journalism, President Obama Whines About A Lack Of Investigative Journalism

from the really-now? dept

On Monday, President Obama gave a speech about journalism in Washington DC, in which he bemoaned the state of investigative journalism today, suggesting that the lack of good investigative journalism is partly to blame for the mess that is this year’s Presidential election season:

A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened. It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can?t keep. (Applause.) And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them. I know that’s a shocking concept that politicians would do that. But without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word. When people put their faith in someone who can?t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.

There’s plenty in the speech that I certainly agree with. The state of media coverage that has moved towards shallow entertainment and he said/she said journalism is sad. And it’s good that the President called out that kind of stuff as well:

I think the electorate would be better served if we spent less time focused on the he said/she said back-and-forth of our politics. Because while fairness is the hallmark of good journalism, false equivalency all too often these days can be a fatal flaw. If I say that the world is round and someone else says it’s flat, that’s worth reporting, but you might also want to report on a bunch of scientific evidence that seems to support the notion that the world is round. And that shouldn?t be buried in paragraph five or six of the article.

He also highlighted some strong investigative reporting from the past and claims he’s dismayed that we’re seeing less of that today:

Whether it was exposing the horrors of lynching, to busting the oil trusts, to uncovering Watergate, your work has always been essential to that endeavor, and that work has never been easy. And let’s face it, in today?s unprecedented change in your industry, the job has gotten tougher.

But he leaves out his own administration’s actions as a big part of why the job of reporting has “gotten tougher.” While he came into office promising “the most transparent administration in history” and one of his first official actions as President was to tell the entire federal government to default to revealing information in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, as we’ve detailed over and over again, the administration has actually been one of the most opaque, setting records for denying FOIA requests, and making it nearly impossible to get any information out of the government without a lawsuit.

Former NY Times Executive Editor, Jill Abramson, who’s worked in journalism in DC for decades, noted that the Obama administration was the most secretive, by far.

“I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes ? I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term,” Abramson told Al Jazeera America in an interview that will air on Sunday.

And part of her complaint was not just in how the administration refuses to reveal anything, but also in how vindictive the White House was against reporters and sources.

The AP’s Washington chief of bureau, Sally Buzbee, said the Obama administration’s efforts to control information extend even to agencies not directly involved in intelligence gathering. Some sources, she said, have reportedly been warned they could be fired for even talking to a reporter.

“Day-to-day intimidation of sources is also extremely chilling,” she said.

Buzbee said she’s frequently asked if the Obama administration, when it comes to transparency, is worse than the administration of President George W. Bush.

“Bush was not fantastic,” she said. She added, “The (Obama) administration is significantly worse than previous administrations.”

And then, of course, there are the criminal lawsuits. The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act against more journalists and leakers than every other President in history combined… and doubled. And, as of two years ago, he had put media leakers in jail for nearly 50 times as long as all other administrations combined.

That is not supporting investigative reporting. That is threatening and intimidating journalists and their sources. Creating true chilling effects and scaring people away from doing the very work that the President insists the media should be practicing.

Way back in 2011, I saw Daniel Ellsberg speak, and he speculated that a key reason why President Obama was so incredibly hostile to a free and open press was because he was embarrassed by his own actions that they were investigating. Ellsberg pointed out that the previous president, George W. Bush was known for widely abusing the power of his position, but he seemed proud of doing so. President Obama, on the other hand, got elected with promises of moving away from such abuses and restoring civil liberties. But that didn’t happen. Things went in the other direction under his watch and his command. So you could understand why the President remains less than keen about leaks and the media digging into things like mass surveillance of Americans, or secret drone bombing campaigns.

It’s a shame that the President feels the need to berate reporters over failing to do real investigative reporting, when a big part of the issue is his own administration’s concerted effort to make that much more difficult.

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Comments on “After Leading The Attack On Investigative Journalism, President Obama Whines About A Lack Of Investigative Journalism”

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Anonymous Coward says:

…It’s a shame that the President feels the need to berate reporters over failing to do real investigative reporting…

1) Real investigative reporting declined even before Obama took office. While it’s nice he’s speaking out it would be better if he’d remedy his own obstructionism.

2) In many cases the failures are not due to the reporters, but the companies they work for being gutless to do investigations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Private corporations are put into the world for one thing and one thing only: To make money.

Since investigative journalism is expensive and has become far more expensive under the newer FOIA. It is no wonder that the genre is getting shafted. No matter how amaseballz investigative journalism may be when it hits, the expense of doing it and the chance of getting legally stonewalled is too large to risk making enemies on.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘in today’s unprecedented change in your industry, the job has gotten tougher’

and considering Obama did absolutely fuck all as far as helping and protecting Snowden and Manning, to name but two, i think he’s got a real nerve to spout this sort of crap! how can the leader of a nation say that under his watch, there will be less cover ups, more whistle blowing encouraged then, when people do the very things he wants more of, turns round and craps on them, leaving them for the wolves to pull apart! he may well still be the President but he tells as big a porkies as the next man!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

thank you, was basically going to say fuck that asswipe, HE persecutes more people doing whistleblowing than done in our previous 200 years, HE allows the banksters to skate away with OUR monies, HE decries encryption for us sheeple, HE beats us with the police-state stick until we are bloody, then has the nerve to blame US because our shirt is bloody ?
fuck that tool of Empire…

Anonymous Coward says:

In Obama’s first term it was a common compliant among reporters and editors that they would receive a phone call from the staff of the White House cussing and chewing them out for lack of favorable viewpoint when reporting the news.

Because of a lack of favorable reporting, one White House correspondent was removed from the reporter’s list and another reporter more favorable to the administration was put in place as an object lesson to the rest of the corp.

It’s a bit late after 8 years of beating up on the journalists to now want something different after all the efforts to prevent the public from knowing what the government does in their name.

In part it is what is driving this dissatisfaction with government by the citizens along with the economy inequity and corporation influence in politics while the citizens have none.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hypocrisy at its Finest...

This is Obama in a nutshell.

Fuck you if I do it to you, and fuck you if you do it to me!

This very same lack of investigative reporting helped him get into office and now he is bitching because it might be helping to get trump into office?

He has cracked down on Whistle Blowers more than any other President!

Obama is the defacto model of a True Democrat! Tell you that he loves the poor (to get their votes) while fucking them over and then bitching about how the poor are getting fucked over right after he pulls out! The poor never learn, they are too busy looking for handouts instead of looking for a step up! And the only thing that matters is what Obama says… not what he actually does!

Never judge someone by what they say… always judge them by what they do!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Funny he worries about that now that he is leaving office

Now that I read the article, in reference to the billions of $$$ in free press, I see he is specifically talking about Trump. Funny, if he had been asked tough questions maybe the electorate would have known better than to re-elect him. Heck, maybe not elect him in the first place.

Even now we will be getting the most dishonest politician to grace the political stage in some time representing the Dems this fall.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That is the order of today. The monopoly on “use of power” is constantly strenghtening their position to a point where they themself have become the goal, rather than the tool.

Todays politicians are emphasizing “representative” rather than “democracy”. Using that to patronize people is far easier if the information that enters the public is incomplete.

JWW (profile) says:

If wishes were horses...

I love all the comments that give Obama a pass on being a horrible President with respect to whistleblowers. People who love him politically cannot wrap their head around the fact that he would deliberately do something “bad” so they come up with all these crappy excuses that are pretty much exactly like a five year old pointing and yelling “but Georgie did it first!!”

ECA (profile) says:

Huh?? WHAT??

“It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.”

FREE MEDIA?? billion dollar FREE MEDIA?? MEDIA accountability??(PAID MEDIA accountability)…
UNWORKABLE PLANS??(get someone in there that has MORE knowledge then Politics)
ANd tons more..

“Whether it was exposing the horrors of lynching, to busting the oil trusts, to uncovering Watergate, your work has always been essential to that endeavor, and that work has never been easy. And let’s face it, in today’s unprecedented change in your industry, the job has gotten tougher.”

2 words..WHISTLE BLOWERS..1 word JAIL..

I cant go on…this is to silly.

Let me ask..HOW can a democracy BE a democracy when we are NOT TOLD what is going on? HOW can we judge WHO to listen to and vote for, If we are FED BS, and Kept int he dark??
FIRE them all(they are OUR EMPLOYEES) and hire new ones..
HIRE ones that have never been in office, and have NEVER had family in office..

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Huh?? WHAT??

My own idea is have a jury pool system for government positions. Everyone 18+ with a driver’s license is automatically entered. You’d go in with a bunch of other folks and a few would be assigned the job for the next month or two. You’d be reimbursed to the same extent juries for courts are, and that’s it. If a random selection of your peers can sentence you to die, they can damn well also run the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

I hate to be the one to say this but President Obama is a complete fucking moron. He moans and whines, bitches and complains when news media organizations (journalists) do what they’re paid to do, such as investigating and reporting the news but he whines, complains, bitches and moans when they don’t do what he wants, such as investigating Republicans?

What a complete fucking moron.

Obama wants journalists to investigate, but only to investigate Republicans in an election year. But when journalists confront him or Democrats when it’s not in the middle of an election season, he doesn’t want them doing their job?


The fucker can’t pick and choose when he wants journalists to investigate and report. Either they do their job and report the news as they investigate or they don’t. Obama can;t have it both ways. This is a man who whined, bitched and moaned when journalists were reporting on Edward Snowden and about the information he was releasing on the U.S. Government’s spying but he admits that during an ‘election’ season he now wants them to investigate and report the news?


Obama has just won the Raspberry Award for Politics.

Anonymous Coward says:

Much of the so-called “investigative journalism” these days is in reality government propaganda masquerading as investigative journalism. Judith Miller’s series of “scoops” about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” that graced numerous front page headlines of the New York Times certainly springs to mind. A decade later Russia’s Vladimir Putin had suddenly replaced Iraq’s Saddam Hussein as the epitome of evil, according to these very same newspapers that had been so disastrously wrong about Iraq.

For better or worse, the United States leads the world as the gold standard of press freedom (or lack thereof) for all other countries to follow. Apparently the former Soviet countries have taken notice, and in following suit, have likewise discouraged (or even suppressed) their own country’s press freedom in the last few years.

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