President Obama unleashed a new series of critical comments regarding the media Monday night, claiming journalists should “maintain certain standards,” and should not be “government-controlled.”
During a speech at the “2015 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting” ceremony at Syracuse University, Obama began by discussing the accomplishments of Robin Toner, the first woman to be the national correspondent for the New York Times, who died in 2008.
The president then took the time to criticize the current state of political journalism, and said he believes “it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us—as politicians or journalists, but most of all, as citizens—may have done to contribute to this atmosphere in our politics.”
[pull_quote_center]The divisive and often vulgar rhetoric that’s aimed at everybody, but often is focused on the vulnerable or women or minorities. The sometimes well-intentioned but I think misguided attempts to shut down that speech. The violent reaction that we see, as well as the deafening silence from too many of our leaders in the coarsening of the debate. The sense that facts don’t matter, that they’re not relevant. That what matters is how much attention you can generate. A sense that this is a game as opposed to the most precious gift our Founders gave us—this collective enterprise of self-government.[/pull_quote_center]
Obama went on to say that the “Fourth Estate” journalist should not be “government-controlled” and should “maintain certain standards” that do not “dumb down the news.”
[pull_quote_center]Part of the independence of the Fourth Estate is that it is not government-controlled, and media companies thereby have an obligation to pursue profits on behalf of their shareholders, their owners, and also has an obligation to invest a good chunk of that profit back into news and back into public affairs, and to maintain certain standards and to not dumb down the news, and to have higher aspirations for what effective news can do. Because a well-informed electorate depends on you. And our democracy depends on a well-informed electorate.[/pull_quote_center]
Obama also said that in the years to come, people will look back at this time and they will look for “the smartest investigative journalism” where journalists “asked the hard questions and forced people to see the truth even when it was uncomfortable.”
[pull_quote_center]But 10, 20, 50 years from now, no one seeking to understand our age is going to be searching the Tweets that got the most retweets, or the post that got the most likes. They’ll look for the kind of reporting, the smartest investigative journalism that told our story and lifted up the contradictions in our societies, and asked the hard questions and forced people to see the truth even when it was uncomfortable.[/pull_quote_center]
While Obama criticized the current climate in journalism, he did not mention the fact that his administration has prosecuted 12 individuals under the Espionage Act—with a case still pending against Edward Snowden—which is more than four times the three whistleblowers who were prosecuted prior to his presidency.
According to ACLU Washington’s Gabe Rottman, “By my count, the Obama administration has secured 526 months of prison time for national security leakers, versus only 24 months total jail time for everyone else since the American Revolution.”
“The last and best source of that accountability is a free press. Tragically, that free press now has a 526-month sentence to serve,” Rottman added.
Obama also did not credit the fact that his administration has set the record for withholding Freedom of Information Act requests, and that in 77 percent of cases, requests are met with empty or redacted files.
The Associated Press noted that, “In some high-profile instances, usually after news organizations filed expensive federal lawsuits, the Obama administration found tens of thousands of pages after it previously said it couldn’t find any.”