Freedom of the press has been on its way out for some time. The rise of the Internet destroyed classified advertising, which had provided half of the income of most newspapers. As circulations shrank, so did press rooms, with the result that journalists had less time to report stories, and “reporting” increasingly became indistinguishable from “access journalism” where only lapdogs could get special angles or early information that would give them a competitive edge.
But even for those hardy reporters who are still fighting the tide and doing real gumshoe work, government officials are regularly rewriting the rules. Journalists who cover protests are often incarcerated despite presenting press credentials. Publicizing protest via covering it is de facto a crime. For instance, from Yasha Levine in 2011:
I finally got home Thursday afternoon after spending two nights in jail, and have had a hard time getting my bearings….
First off, don’t believe the PR bullshit. There was nothing peaceful or professional about the LAPD’s attack on Occupy LA–not unless you think that people peacefully protesting against the power of the financial oligarchy deserve to be treated the way I saw Russian cops treating the protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg who were demonstrating against the oligarchy under Putin and Yeltsin, before we at The eXiled all got tossed out in 2008. Back then, everyone in the West protested and criticized the way the Russian cops brutally snuffed out dissent, myself included. Now I’m in America, at a demonstration, watching exactly the same brutal crackdown…
* The bus that I was shoved into didn’t move for at least an hour. The whole time we listened to the screams and crying from a young woman whom the cops locked into a tiny cage at the front of the bus. She was in agony, begging and pleading for one of the policemen to loosen her plastic handcuffs. A police officer sat a couple of feet away the entire time that she screamed–but wouldn’t lift a finger.
* Everyone on my bus felt her pain–literally felt it. That’s because the zip-tie handcuffs they use—like the ones you see on Iraq prisoners in Abu Ghraib—cut off your circulation and wedge deep through your skin, where they can do some serious nerve damage, if that’s the point. And it did seem to be the point. A couple of guys around me were writhing in agony in their hard plastic seats, hands handcuffed behind their back.
* The 100 protesters in my detainee group were kept handcuffed with their hands behind their backs for 7 hours, denied food and water and forced to sit/sleep on a concrete floor. Some were so tired they passed out face down on the cold and dirty concrete, hands tied behind their back. As a result of the tight cuffs, I wound up losing sensation in my left palm/thumb and still haven’t recovered it now, a day and a half after they finally took them off.
The latest restriction on press oversight is the first-time requirement that only journalists who pass a Secret Service screening process will be allowed to attend the Democratic and Republican conventions. Mind you, delegates and guests are free to attend. Bear in mind that these restrictions were implemented by the Obama Administration. From the Daily Beast:
The United States Secret Service…whose once-pristine reputation has been tarnished in recent years by scandal, congressional investigations and, more to the point, aggressive investigative reporting—is for the first time ever running background checks on thousands of journalists who want to attend this summer’s Republican and Democratic Party nominating conventions.
Journalists who don’t pass muster—in what several complain is an inscrutable security screening process for which there are no plainly established criteria, and from which there is no appeal—will be denied credentials…
“I personally think it’s the government deciding who can and can’t be a journalist, and I don’t think the First Amendment allows that,” said Newark Star-Ledger Washington correspondent Jonathan D. Salant, a member and former chairman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents..
In addition, the Secret Service says it isn’t singling out journalists for special scrutiny—never mind that these background checks apparently won’t be conducted on thousands of delegates and guests…
The convention participants who are subject to vetting are those who go to a “National Special Security Event,” such as operating in secure areas like near the podium or backstage.
Even better, the Secret Service is outsourcing the job! Again from Daily Beast:
The Secret Service eventually agreed to sit down with the gallery directors in February, and in the second session at the Capitol brought along a top official of the Ardian Group—the Pennsylvania-based private contractor to whom the government agency is outsourcing the job of vetting an estimated 15,000 journalists..
In that meeting, Ardian executive Heidi Talalay expressed confidence in the company’s ability to handle the labor-intensive assignment, and pointed out that a previous Ardian job—vetting journalists for credentials to cover Pope Francis’s September 2015 visit to the United States—went smoothly, an assertion that contradicted numerous complaints at the time about a process that struck many journalists as confusing and frustrating.
And yes, this is an Obama-created star chamber:
Salant, for his part, told The Daily Beast that three months of constructive engagement and quiet diplomacy with the agency have yielded zero accommodations from the Secret Service, which is premising its unprecedented credentialing authority on a 2013 Obama administration national security directive—Presidential Policy Directive 22—whose language is classified and thus not publicly available.
Needless to say, it is extremely unusual, at least in the American context, for a government agency to formulate a policy regarding the news media, based on the possibly tendentious interpretation of a secret directive that, because the content and purpose of the directive are a mystery, is not open for discussion. An official listing of President Obama’s directives mentions the existence of PPD 22 but otherwise offers no explanation, leaving the line blank. (An anonymous law enforcement official told Politico that the directive gives the Secret Service to power of enforcing “access control.”)
So if the revolution is not televised, does it not exist? This seems to be the premise of a lot of the absence, selective coverage, and minimization of important political stories.