WASHINGTON -- Despite a promise of transparency, President Barack Obama has run a secretive government thats chilling the flow of information to reporters while it tries to channel its version of news through its own government media, according to a new report from a journalists group.
The report says the Obama administration has curbed the disclosure of government information, limited the use of the Freedom of Information Act, launched a program of internal surveillance to stop people from talking to reporters and conducted an unprecedented number of investigations of journalists.
The search for leaks, the reports author said, is the most aggressive since President Richard Nixon.
In the Obama administrations Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press, says the report by Leonard Downie Jr. for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Theres no question that sources are looking over their shoulders, Michael Oreskes, a senior managing editor of The Associated Press, says in the report.
The AP is one of the news organizations thats been investigated, its phone records used to find and prosecute a former FBI agent who pleaded guilty to revealing information about a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen.
Since Obama took office, his administration has conducted felony criminal prosecutions of six government employees plus two contractors, including Edward Snowden, whom it accused of leaking classified information to the media.
Thered been just three such prosecutions in U.S. history before Obama, the report notes.
The administrations war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive Ive seen since the Nixon administration, said Downie, who was an editor at The Washington Post when it investigated the Watergate scandal under Nixon.
The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent, he added.
Obama came to office vowing the most transparent administration in history. Yet the study found that his administration repeatedly has worked to keep things secret from the media while using social media and other tools to send out its own view of events.
One of Obamas first acts, for example, was to announce his order that government agencies respond faster to requests filed by reporters or citizens under the Freedom of Information Act. He also created the Open Government Initiative, which set up new websites on which government agencies were to release more information.
Instead, Downie wrote, reporters and open government advocates told me that their FOIA requests too often faced denials, delays, unresponsiveness or demands for exorbitant fees, with cooperation or obstruction varying widely from agency to agency.
Some offices, such as the Agency for International Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, were off the charts bad on revealing things under Freedom of Information Act requests, according to transparency advocate Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight.
The new websites also didnt deliver.
The government websites turned out to be part of a strategy, honed during Obamas presidential campaign, to use the Internet to dispense to the public large amounts of favorable information and images generated by his administration, while limiting its exposure to probing by the press, the report concludes.