The United States has dropped 29 spots in the annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking since 2009, when President Barack Obama took office.
The decline from its position at No. 20 in 2009 has been spurred by the Obama administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, said Delphine Halgand, the organization’s U.S. director.
“We consider that the Obama administration has launched a war against whistleblowers,” Halgand said. “This year is a continuation of the concern we already expressed that national security protection has been more and more threatening freedom of information in the U.S.”
The U.S. has prosecuted eight alleged whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all previous presidential administrations combined, Halgand said.
Despite Obama’s campaign pledge to make his administration one of the most transparent in history, reporters and press freedom watchdogs have continually slammed the administration as one of the least transparent and criticized its dogged efforts to plug leaks.
Reporters without Borders, an organization that works to protect journalists around the world, tied the U.S.’s drop in this year’s rankings to the “judicial harassment” of James Risen, a New York Times reporter who last year stared down federal prosecutors pushing him to reveal the identity of an anonymous source.
The purported source, ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, was convicted early this year on nine felony counts for leaking classified information. Risen refused to reveal his source, and federal prosecutors decided not to indict him on any charges.
Reporters without Borders also pointed to the Ferguson protests, where it says at least 15 journalists were arrested.
I can certainly appreciate the fact that oftentimes, national security secrets need to be protected. I am not a fan of Edward Snowden or others who harm American intelligence gathering operations in the name of “openness.” But under this administration, we have not received the transparency that we have been promised. Rather, press freedoms have been under continuous assault, and the Obama administration has done little to nothing to stand in the way of that assault. And of course, the president usually cannot be bothered to say anything in support of press freedoms.
So I hope that more news organizations like the New York Times speak out against the curbing of press freedoms. The First Amendment is supposed to mean something, and freedom of the press has come to mean a whole lot less than it used to mean over the past six years. That has got to change, and it cannot change soon enough.