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Three Cheers for the Thomas Jefferson Center

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The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression noticed my recent article on “Obama’s War on Journalists,” and pointed out that three of their “Jefferson Muzzle” awards are aimed squarely at the Obama administration.

We think they are right on the money.

And we’re not the only ones who think that the Obama administration is muzzling journalists’ free speech, along with a complicit broadcast media. As AIM chairman Don Irvine pointed out, veteran journalist Sharyl Attkisson, who recently left CBS News after two decades there, made comments to that effect as well. The Emmy-award winning Attkisson, who was also the recipient in 2012 of Accuracy in Media’s Reed Irvine Award for Investigative Journalism, was on Fox News Channel’s “Media Buzz,” this past weekend, and told host Howard Kurtz that she often felt pressure to stay away from stories that reflected badly on the Obama White House.

“There is pressure coming to bear on journalists for just doing their job in ways that have never come to bear before,” Attkisson told Fox News. “But it is particularly aggressive under the Obama administration, and I think it’s a campaign that’s very well organized, that’s designed to have sort of a chilling effect and to some degree has been somewhat successful in getting broadcast producers who don’t really want to deal with the headache of it.”

More than just headaches are involved if you look at the Obama administration’s unprecedented history pursuing leakers under the Espionage Act. This aggressive pursuit of leakers threatens to engulf those they leak to—the journalists—as well. An FBI affidavit labeled Fox News journalist James Rosen as a probable criminal “co-conspirator” in a spying case with Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who has pleaded guilty and will serve a 13-month sentence. “What was truly shameful about the DOJ’s investigation was that it never actually considered Rosen a criminal co-conspirator; the accusation was merely a means by which to circumvent the requirements of the Privacy Protection Act,” writes the Thomas Jefferson Center (TJC) regarding this case. They awarded the first of the 2014 Jefferson Muzzle awards to the U.S. Department of Justice for its role in subpoenaing two months of Associated Press records, and its treatment of James Rosen.

The second winner of the awards was the White House Press Office, for “dramatically limit[ing] professional photojournalists’ access to the President.” In essence, photojournalists are “routinely prevented from taking pictures of President Obama while he is performing his official duties because the White House categorizes such events as ‘private,’” yet official photos of these events are later released to his followers via social media. “Writing in The New York Times, the current director of photography for the Associated Press, Santiago Lyon suggested that these glossy official images are at best, visual press releases, and at worst, pure propaganda masquerading as news,” writes the TJC.

Comparing the Obama administration policy on news photographers in the White House to previous administrations, TJC wrote that photos of President Obama and his staff “working together in the Oval Office have never been allowed, even though such pictures were routine in the past.”

To add insult to injury, if a person tries to point out government hypocrisy commercially, the full force of that government may be used to shut them down. Dan McCall, selling merchandise such as T-shirts through Zazzle.com, “juxtaposed an image of the National Security Agency’s (‘NSA’) official seal with the words, ‘Spying On You Since 1952,’” along with other parodies of the NSA and DHS. The NSA sent him cease and desist letters claiming that he had “violated a federal law making it a criminal offense to misuse the NSA trademark.” The Department of Homeland Security sent him a similar letter for another design. McCall quit selling his designs for a couple of years, but in late 2013 he filed a lawsuit to assert his First Amendment rights. “Here, the facts were such that the only plausible explanation for the agencies’ cease and desist letters was to suppress government criticism,” argues the TJC, which gave the third award to the NSA and DHS. “No reasonable person would believe that the designs were affiliated with, or supported by, the NSA or DHS.”

You can read the rest of their nine awards on the Thomas Jefferson Center website.

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