Obama Administration Slapped With 'Muzzle Awards' for Threatening Free Expression


Obama in a snit
White House

In the past few months, the U.S government has been slapped by Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists over its attempts to maintain a stranglehold on information, to punish government employees who speak to the press, and even for targeting journalists themselves.

Now you can add the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression to the list of critics. Out of nine Muzzle Awards bestowed by the organization this year, three go to elements of the Obama administration.

For 2014 the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, which is "devoted solely to the defense of free expression in all its forms," bestowed dishonors in the area of respect for free expression on the U.S. Department of Justice, the White House Press Office, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In its write-up of the Justice Department, the Center points out that "the current administration has pursued more prosecutions for leaks under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined." In particular, it refers to the tracking of Associated Press communications and the surveillance of Fox News correspondent James Rosen.

[T]he DOJ characterized James Rosen as a "criminal co-conspirator." That fact bears repeating: The federal government labeled a reporter a criminal for merely doing his job.

What was truly shameful about the DOJ's investigation was that it never actually considered Rosen a criminal co-conspirator; the accusation was merely a means by which to circumvent the requirements of the Privacy Protection Act. In a letter to Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder stated, "the government's decision to seek this search warrant was an investigative step, and at no time during this matter have prosecutors sought approval from me to bring criminal charges against the reporter."

The write-up ends on a hopeful note that the political backlash sparked by targeting the press will deter future efforts.

We'll see.

The White House Press Office gets called out for its control-freaky efforts to micromanage the president's image.

Journalists have been butting heads with the Obama White House ever since press corps photographers were prohibited from documenting the President's first day in office. In fact, during his first five years in office, the White House has permitted photography of President Obama alone inside the Oval Office only twice: during telephone calls in 2009 and 2010. Photos of the President and his staff working together in the Oval Office have never been allowed, even though such pictures were routine in the past.

The sanitized images released by authorized White House photographers in lieu of actual journalistic photographs are "at best, visual press releases, and at worst, pure propaganda masquerading as news."

The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security get slapped not for their creepy, creepy ways, but for their intolerance toward those who mock their snoopiness.

Dan McCall sells T-shirts, mugs, posters, and other products through the website Zazzle.com. Imprinted on his merchandise are humorous images and messages, often of a political nature. One of McCall's designs juxtaposed an image of the National Security Agency's ("NSA") official seal with the words, "Spying On You Since 1952." Another design featured an altered version of the NSA seal immediately above the words, "The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens." The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") was also a target for parody, with McCall altering the official DHS seal to read, "Department of Homeland Stupidity."

The NSA and the DHS were not amused. In 2011, both entities sent cease and desist letters to Zazzle.com threatening legal action if the website did not remove the three designs described above.

Ultimately the feds backed own—after three years of litigation and much more mocking. But the potential remains for the NSA and DHS to pull the same stunt on anybody who finds humor in the surveillance state.

Hey, this national security stuff is much too important to be an object of fun. Or else.

Other booby prize winners include: the North Carolina General Assembly Police, the Kansas Board of Regents, Modesto Junior College, the Tennessee State Legislature, Wharton High School Principal Brad Woods, Pemberton Township High School Principal Ida Smith.

See the full list of awards, and their rationales, here.

The White House in the same company as Modesto Junior College? That's gotta sting.

In the earlier Committee to Protect Journalists report, David E. Sanger of The New York Times commented, "This is the most closed, control freak administration I've ever covered."

Plenty of people seem to agree.