Don’t look too closely at what we do. That’s the order from the Obama administration. It has spied on reporters, threatened them with jail and thwarted interviews. It has tricked the press into inaccuracy. More than a half million times last year it came up short on citizen requests for government information.
It has also twisted embarrassing facts to confuse critics, a technique expertly displayed last week in President Barack Obama’s mocking fulmination about $400 million in foreign cash delivered early this year to Iran. The delivery happened the same day Iran released four Americans from prison, and some dared call it ransom.
Not so, snorted Obama in a press conference, looking to quash a storyline of him encouraging kidnapping. He disdainfully observed he had earlier announced we were returning money that belonged to Iran. We returned these particular millions when we did, he said, because of a court proceeding that could have cost us more if we waited.
So, in other words, if the money is legitimately Iran’s, there’s no way it could be connected with release of prisoners? Even putting aside the questions of whether the transfer via foreign cash in a secretly deployed airplane was actually legal and whether the stacks of dough will enable terrorism, the logic doesn’t work, especially when you consider more details.
1) The Justice Department was concerned that if the money was returned on the same day the prisoners were released, it would look like ransom. It asked that the two events happen on different days. 2) Without explanation, the State Department refused the request. 3) A prisoner being released said he and the others sat on a plane for hours waiting for another plane to arrive. 4) Iranian officials said the money was definitely a ransom. 5) U.S. officials agreed Iranian officials demanded cash before the release.
It was The Wall Street Journal that told most of this story, not a president who had said right after his first inauguration that his would be the most transparent administration in history. In fact, in 2015, it set an astonishing record of either censoring government materials or providing none at all in 77 percent of citizen requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
That would be 596,095 instances of less than was sought, the Associated Press reported. The excuses were many, and in some cases no doubt valid, but thousands of pages that at first couldn’t be found were somehow discovered when the courts stepped in, and the administration admitted it had in some cases sidestepped the law.
And the press? The Obama administration has been “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation,” according to James Risen, a New York Times reporter who faced prison for not revealing a source. The administration has intimidated still others and has stubbornly denied White House reporters access to officials in the know. It has spied on Associated Press reporters and others. An aide to the president also revealed in a New York Times Magazine article that he easily manipulated inexperienced journalists into producing misleading stories about the Iran nuclear deal.
As president, Hillary Clinton just might top all of this. A short Q-and-A session with an organization of minority journalists last week was the first official press conference she has had in seven months. She recently lied still again on the topic of recklessly managed classified emails, the latest fib in a lifetime of whoppers.
The corrupt Clinton Foundation has broken rules by not reporting who its donors are and how much money it has taken in, and she has refused to release recordings of her cozy confabs with corporate contributors.
Worst of all, she wants a rewrite of the First Amendment to give D.C. politicians greater power to regulate speech.
Donald Trump could be frightening, too, but has stomped his candidacy to death, and what’s needed is election of a Republican-controlled Congress to counterbalance autocratic impulse.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.