Letter: Openness shrinks under Obama

Campaigning for his first term as president, Barack Obama promised to bring unprecedented transparency to the White House, a boast he repeated in his second term just before the Snowden debacle began to unfold. In a Google Hangout session Mr. Obama said: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” As with so many of his public utterances, the facts belie the promise.

The 2014 World Press Freedom Index, an annual attempt by Reporters Without Borders to measure journalistic freedom across the globe was recently released (http://rsf.org/index2014/en-index2014.php). The United States fell 13 places (from 32 to 46) since last year. We now rank behind such transparency-friendly countries as Latvia, Slovenia and Romania.

Compilers of the index base their rankings on actual events rather than political rhetoric, denoting that countries like the United States that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law often retreat from democratic practices by sacrificing freedom of information to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs. Recent examples include government’s heavy-handed attempts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Pvt. Bradley Manning and the aggressive pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden have had a chilling effect on people thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest. Moreover, seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning by the Department of Justice in order to identify the source of a CIA leak stunned journalists everywhere.

Other abuses of individual freedom perpetrated by the Obama administration readily come to mind, such as IRS targeting of political adversaries. The president’s contention that IRS tactics did not entail “even a smidgen of corruption” resembles Ray Nagin’s lame protestations of innocence. In fact, the more we learn about the sordid details of IRS practices in the present administration, the more it appears that Obama is more Nixon than Nixon. We could also cite Obamacare, a veritable cornucopia of opportunities to restrict individual freedoms; however, space is limited and that is a topic unto itself.

Personally, I take little comfort in the fact that the World Press Freedom Index ranks the U.S. far above Syria (unchanged at 177th) and Iran (which actually moved up two slots to 173rd). The fact that there are 45 countries ahead of the U.S. in freedom of information is disturbing enough. The downward trajectory (trend) of the U.S. is even more disconcerting.

Robert Hebert

economist

Baton Rouge