Beltway Confidential

Obama administration cracks down on journalists more than any since Woodrow Wilson

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Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Barack Obama,The Washington Post,Surveillance,The New York Times,History,Journalists,Woodrow Wilson,Espionage Act of 1917,Civil Liberties

Leonard Downie, former executive editor of the Washington Post, about what he calls "the Obama administration's war on leaks." Journalists are being surveilled to a greater extent than before and are meeting sources secretly -- a la Bob Woodward in the parking garage -- rather than communicate by phone or e-mail. He provides rich details on this crackdown and on its effects on journalists. He quotes 20-year New York Times reporter David Sanger as saying, "This is the most closed, control-freak administration I've ever covered."

The legal basis for this is the Espionage Act of 1917. As I pointed out in a Washington Examiner column in May, that statute was passed during Woodrow Wilson's administation after the United States entered World War I. It is widely considered overbroad. Wilson used this statute and others to infringe more on civil liberties than any subsequent administration. Socialist party leader Eugene Debs was jailed for writings opposing the war; Wilson's Republican successor, former journalist Warren G. Harding, pardoned Debs and invited him to the White House. Now the Obama administration is using Wilson's legislation to crack down more on journalists than any other president since his Democratic predecessor of 100 years ago.

There's a general assumption, shared by many conservatives as well as most liberals, that small government conservatives are more likely than big government liberals to infringe on civil liberties. The actions of the Wilson and Obama administrations show that this is not always the case.

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Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst
The Washington Examiner