Veteran NYT Reporter: Team Obama ‘Most Closed, Control-Freak Administration I’ve Ever Covered’

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In the eyes of Washington news media veterans, Richard Nixon ain’t got nothin’ on Barack Obama. One NYT reporter, who has worked in D.C. for two decades, puts it this way: “This is most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”

Leonard Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post, provided WaPo with a preview of an upcoming report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,”  which will be released Thursday by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The report was compiled based, in large part, on contributions from veteran Washington reporters.

One such reporter is David Sanger, who has worked in D.C. for more than twenty years:

“A memo went out from the chief of staff a year ago to White House employees and the intelligence agencies that told people to freeze and retain any e-mail, and presumably phone logs, of communications with me,” Sanger said. As a result, longtime sources no longer talk to him. “They tell me: ‘David, I love you, but don’t e-mail me. Let’s don’t chat until this blows over.’ ”

Sanger, who has worked for the Times in Washington for two decades, said, “This is most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”

Other media veterans told Downie of similar concerns:

“I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit accountability news organization. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for government to monitor those contacts.”

“We have to think more about when we use cellphones, when we use e-mail and when we need to meet sources in person,” said Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor of the Associated Press. “We need to be more and more aware that government can track our work without talking to our reporters, without letting us know.”

According to Downie, the administration has relied on the 1917 Espionage Act – which was rarely invoked before President Obama took office - to secretly access the phone and e-mail records of government officials and reporters to identify and prosecute government sources over national security stories.

How bad has it become? Downie says a few news organizations have even set up separate computer networks and safe rooms for journalists trained in encryption and other ways to thwart surveillance by the government.

Somewhere, Richard Nixon is smiling.

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