Jim Acosta’s hard pass has been suspended by the White House, and the charges that President Donald Trump is at war with the media have again become common. Those in the media may wan to remind themselves who exactly started that war.
In an earlier article comparing and contrasting Trump and Barack Obama’s treatment of Russia, I argued that while Trump has been kind in terms of rhetoric, he’s been far tougher on Russia than Obama. Trump approved the sale of weapons to Ukraine to protect against Russia (which Obama refused to do), condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea (which Obama didn’t do), imposed sanctions on Russia, and many other actions unfavorably towards the Hermit Kingdom. The case of Trump and the media is almost the exact opposite. While Trump’s rhetoric towards the media has been almost exclusively hostile, Trump hasn’t interfered with journalists work one iota in comparison to Obama.
The month before Trump took office, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen wrote in the New York Times that “If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama.”
Risen would know – as he fought efforts from the Department of Justice under both Obama and George W. Bush to compel him to identify sources from a 2006 book of his.
“The Most Transparent Administration in History”
The self-described “most transparent” administration in history was objectively the least transparent.
According to a report published during Obama’s last year in office, the administration set a record for rejections of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The Obama administration either censored materials or rejected requests outright for access in a record 596,095 cases (77% of the time). In just his last year in office alone, the Obama administration spent $36.2 million in legal fees fighting FOIA related lawsuits.
I’ve seen attempts to argue that the “77% rejection” figure is inaccurate, but only if you count censored documents as having been fulfilled FOIA requests. Perhaps under Common Core math that makes sense.
Obama prosecuted more journalists under the Espionage Act than all other Presidents combined. While many certainly deserved it (such as Chelsea Manning), are we to believe there were more acts of espionage from 2009-2016 than the rest of American history?
In total, 13 people have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act for sharing classified information with journalists since 1945. Of those 13, eight were arrested while Obama was president. Only one person has been prosecuted under the Espionage Act under Trump’s presidency (a woman bizarrely named “Reality Winner’), which is entirely justified for the same reasons that Manning’s charges were justified.
As one writer put it, “Trump rages about leakers. Obama quietly prosecuted them.”
Obama Would’ve Expelled Fox News if He Could’ve
Trump wants a single person from CNN gone – Jim Acosta. Obama wanted all of Fox News gone. Just months ago in September he said with a straight face that “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.”
Obama may have not branded Fox News “enemies of the people,” but he certainly treated them as if they were.
In 2009 Obama’s White House intentionally excluded Chris Wallace from a round of interviews related to Obama’s push for healthcare reform.
Later in the year the administration attempted to block Fox reporters from interviewing “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg, and then lied about it. An internal White House email dated October 22nd 2009 proves that the White House director of broadcast media told Treasury officials “We’d prefer if you skip Fox please.”
Obama’s communications director Anita Dunn publicly echoed the same sentiments at the time. “We’re going to treat them [Fox News] the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”
In 2012 Fox was excluded from a White House conference call related to the then-recent attacks in Benghazi, killing four Americans. Fox was also excluded from the CIA’s briefing about the attack.
And to again reference the Espionage Act, in 2012 Fox News’ James Rosen was labeled a “criminal co-conspirator” under the Espionage Act because he used a State Department contractor as a source for a story. At least five of Rosen’s phone lines were seized, and the FBI obtained a warrant to search his emails. The phone records of Rosen’s parents were also seized.
What’s the Trumpian comparison? Calling people he doesn’t like “fake news” and hurting Jim Acosta’s feelings?