In “A pointed report on Trump and the media” (April 18), John Rash claims that, “the Committee to Protect Journalists didn’t bury the lede in its new report on the press and President Donald Trump. The Trump administration has stepped up prosecutions of news sources, interfered in the business of news owners, harassed journalists crossing U.S. borders and empowered foreign leaders to restrict their own media.”
After reading the CPJ report, I think otherwise. Deeply buried in the report (which mentions Trump north of 200 times and former President Barack Obama about a dozen), are these nuggets:
• “Barack Obama promised that his administration would be the most transparent in history. Instead it became the most determined to limit information that the news media needed to hold the government accountable for its actions.”
• “Yet, the Obama administration ‘never engaged in public rhetoric against the press,’ noted University of Georgia media law professor Jonathan Peters.”
• “Most significantly, the Obama administration prosecuted 10 government employees and contractors for disclosing classified information to the press. Eight of the prosecutions were under the 1917 Espionage Act, which was enacted during World War I to protect the country against spies for foreign governments. It had been used only three times in the nine decades before Obama took office.”
• “The large number of prosecutions of news sources by Trump’s Justice Department ‘is the fault of the Obama administration,’ Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan told me. ‘It created a blueprint that has been easy to follow. The use of the Espionage Act for this kind of thing is terrible.’ ”
To its credit, the CPJ report deigns to mention Julian Assange a few times, pointing out the U.S. government’s continuing harassment of him, aided by our Swedish and British lap dogs. But where has the CPJ been for the last eight years? Accurate mainstream media coverage of Assange trends toward zero.
I recently stumbled on a clipping from the Minneapolis Tribune from May 6, 1918, describing the plight of one Meyer Brandvig, running for Senate on the Nonpartisan League ticket, who was: “… still in jail here tonight, following his arrest at a league meeting in Waverly Township Saturday night. It is expected that Brandvig will be charged with unlawful assembly, as Nonpartisan league meetings are forbidden in this county while the officials of the organization are under indictment for alleged disloyalty.”
The odious and patently unconstitutional use of the Espionage Act to suppress free speech drove attacks on the Nonpartisan League. That the act remains on the books after a century is a testament to a cowardly press and a craven Congress.
When U.S. journalists start covering the railroading of Assange by the kangaroo extradition court in Britain, start reminding their readers that no legal jurisdiction in Sweden ever filed a single charge against Assange for rape or anything else, that the U.S. bugged the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to eavesdrop on and videotape privileged conversations between Assange and his attorneys, that he has been denied any semblance of due process by British authorities while being held in solitary confinement, regularly strip-searched and denied access to counsel — perhaps then they can complain about Trumpian excess. It appears current British strategy is to keep Assange incarcerated until COVID-19 ravages Belmarsh prison and kills him.
By creating the blueprint, Obama was the “architect” who designed the policies of press subversion, while Trump is merely the builder.
Apparently, the Committee to Protect Journalists prefers its suppressions of free speech to be smooth, stealthy and arms-length rather than crude, blatant and in-your-face.
William Beyer is a writer in St. Louis Park.