The last several weeks have revealed a number of issues surrounding this President's administration—issues that raise questions for all of us, but perhaps more so for Obama supporters.
Earlier this month it was revealed that the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) had secretly obtained phone records of journalists. “The Associated Press is reporting that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of its phone records in what it calls a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its newsgathering process.” (Washington Post 5/13)
The White House reportedly took action as a result of government leaks regarding issues of national security. The journalists in question were reporting on the May 2012 story about the CIA and the terror threat in Yemen. The larger, more troubling issue is the reversal in Obama’s pre-election commitment to respect and preserve civil liberties. Many of us voted for this president because of his marked dedication to preserving the rights of citizens, coming after aggressive use of the Patriot Act and other ‘big brother’ like actions taken by past leadership.
It’s not unusual for news media to have records subpoenaed. There has always been a need to protect national security and to curb leaks that might damage our country, our people and our reputation. Jay Carney, White House press secretary, summed up the situation, “The president feels strongly that we need the press to be able to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism”. He went on to add, “He is also mindful of the need for secret and classified information to remain secret and classified in order to protect our national security interests.” (Washington Post 5/13) Here we have two opposing thoughts in the course of a one-minute video clip. Are journalists to be unfettered or bound by a fluid interpretation of ‘secret and classified’? I am not sure how I would interpret that as a reporter. It feels like uncertain ground, like the goal posts can be moved whenever needed to protect national security. Perhaps that is the way it must be, but we must rely upon others' definitions of "national security" and "security interests". The latter may have many variables at play, and when do those determinations of national security trample on civil liberties and the United States Constitution? It is, indeed, an uneasy tension.
The effects on reporters is already beginning to take effect as indicated in this recent article in The New York Times, Press Sees Chilling Effect in Justice Dept. Inquiries. Reporters are on edge and looking at ways to report on national security topics without endangering their careers or their sources. Jane Mayer, a staff writer with The New Yorker compares the recent investigation to the Bush administration’s hard stance on reporters, “the surprise has simply been that Obama’s administration has continued, and even accelerated the crackdown on leaks.” The former Army Officer in me agrees with the President here, but the lawyer in me has a lot of questions about how far and how zealous these "crackdowns" are going.
The seizure of journalist phone records isn’t the only suspect action involving the White House and Department of Justice in recent weeks. It comes on the heels of the IRS revelation about targeting conservative political organizations and the use of drones for counterterrorism efforts. And, all at a time, post-Boston Marathon, when we’re not feeling as safe as we did on Election Day 2012.
Some Presidents walk that fine and subtle line of carrying out election promises and initiatives with a deft political touch, and do it well; some bulldoze through, following their own political agendas. Many thought the last President was of the bulldozer mentality, and certainly did not expect the same out of the current occupant of the Oval Office. These recent actions and revelations are certainly not what we expected when we voted for a second term for President Obama.