Whistleblowers deserve protection
President Obama made many promises in his campaign and during the early years of his tenure as president of the United States. One such pledge, outlined on his transitional website change.gov, was “[To] strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud and abuse of authority in government.”
To expect all of these promises to be upheld would be ignorant of the state of American electoral politics. But President Obama did not simply ignore the above promise; he completely reversed positions by waging a war against whistleblowers and the journalists who bring their stories to light. The President should stop using antiquated legislation, such as the 1917 Espionage Act, to prosecute whistleblowers, which is having a dramatic effect on how journalism is practiced in the U.S.
According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Obama Administration has prosecuted 8 whistleblowers, including NSA PRISM leaker Edward Snowden, in federal court under violations of the 1917 Espionage Act. The Espionage Act was passed in an effort to prevent the aiding of the enemy during WWI. It was used just three times to prosecute whistleblowers before Obama took office.
The prosecution of whistleblowers has had a dramatic impact on the way that journalists can cover the affairs of the White House. Scott Shane, who covers national security for the New York Times, said, “Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They’re scared to death…Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It’s having a deterrent effect.”
According to the CPJ report, sources in the Obama Administration are refusing to give comments to reporters for fear of ramifications.
Journalists can serve as a much-needed check on government power. The dissemination of the government’s activities to the public keeps is supposed to keep our democracy strong. This level of prosecution by the Obama Administration is shocking and is a severe blow to the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
CPJ notes that reporters are often directed to official White House websites for comments and content for their stories, which hurts any chance for effective journalism. The public relies on reporters to feed us with information gathered by sources close to the action. We require stories of how situations were actually handled, rather than being fed officially sanctioned soundbites.
In order for those goals to be accomplished, reporters must have access to sources, and whistleblowers must be protected and free from prosecution when the content of their information serves to enhance our state of democracy.
Americans must demand that the press be granted the level of protection that allows for accurate reporting. For this to happen, Americans must express their outrage at the level of censorship perpetrated by the Obama Administration.
UA professor of cultural anthropology and instructor of several honors classes pertaining to privacy issues and surveillance, Victor Braitberg, told the Daily Wildcat, “I think we have on our hands a transnational anti-secrecy movement that is still relatively insignificant in terms of numbers and political clout but seems to be growing as a movement and I think will continue to over time.”
The growth of this movement is absolutely necessary. President Obama baited the press with promises for increased protection, and completely reversed his position. The use of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers, especially from a President who promised to protect them, sets a dangerous precedent for the nature of effective reporting that could damage American democracy for years to come. The public must demand a change.
Anthony Carlis is a politcal science senior. Follow him @acarli10.