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Obama's Crackdown on Press Leaks

Pres. Obama is coming down hard on leaks to the press – prosecuting even more aggressively than predecessor Pres. Bush.

President Barack Obama takes a question from AP correspondent Jennifer Loven during a news conference at the White House, May 27, 2010. (AP)

Americans are used to leaks, from the heart of government, that rip the secrecy away from huge scandals. Abu Ghraib. Warrentless wiretapping. Watergate. 

They’re also used to White House outrage at leaks that presidents assert harm national security. 

Now, the Obama White House is doing more than complaining. It’s bringing hard-line prosecution against leakers. Real charges. Real prison time. Maybe the most aggressive hard line on leaks in history. 

Supporters say it’s high time. Critics say it’s too much. 

This Hour, On Point: leaks and transparency in the age of Obama.


Scott Shane, reporter for the New York Times. His recent article is “Obama Takes a Hard Line Against Leaks to Press.”

Jesselyn Radack, homeland security director at the Government Accountability Project. She’s a former Department of Justice ethics advisor and whistleblower in the case of the interrogation of John Walker Lindh, a.k.a. the “American Taliban.”

Gabriel Schoenfeld, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He’s author of “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law.”

Kim Zetter, reporter for Wired who has been following the Wikileaks story. She co-wrote the blog post that broke the story of leaker Bradley Manning being turned in by hacker Adrian Lamo.

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  • Expanded Consciousness

    Persecuted? Charged them with a crime and put them on trial? Who has Obama fired?

  • Meg Powers

    During the Bush years, press leaks were cheered, justified, encouraged, and urged by Ashbrook and Beatty. Now that Obama is in power listen for Beatty and Ashbrook to condemn the leaks. Isn’t hypocrisy wonderful? Hey Tom, how do Jack and you live with yourselves? Be prepared for Tom and the guests to tell the listenership how difficult it is for Obama to govern in the presence of so many leaks. “Its just not fair.” “Its just not right.” Keep shilling for Obama. The fourth estate is not supposed to be a cheering squad or a public relations firm.

  • frances

    Um…what? Since when has Jack Beatty been a cheerleader for this president (or any president)? Pretty sure journalists have an interest in keeping sources open. Not that the white house press corp has any journalists in it.

    I guess some people will just continue to hear what they want to hear and keep self-victimizing.

  • JP

    I wish this administration had some transparency!

  • peter nelson

    Be prepared for Tom and the guests to tell the listenership how difficult it is for Obama to govern in the presence of so many leaks. “Its just not fair.” “Its just not right.”

    Meg Powers attacks them for what she’s confident they WILL do! I at least criticize people AFTER they do something (it seems only fair).

    Do you remember the Pentagon Papers? They covered actions of the US from 1945-1967 in Southeast Asia. Most of these actions involved Democratic administrations – Kennedy and Johnson. But the left had a field day with them!

    So far the reaction by opponents of US Iraq involvement to the Wilileaks story has been similar – we see it as vindication of our position that Iraq has an evil and corrupting influence on the participants, and also our claims that we are being lied-to. The leaked video is chilling but everyone has an obligation to know what’s in them. I think the leaker performed a public service.

  • jeffe

    Meg did you hear Jack Beatty say anything to support this?
    I have not and as far as Tom Ashbrook goes well you posted at 9 AM before this show aired so how can you come to this consensus before the show airs?

    Also Bush/Cheney was one of the worse administrations in modern history.

    That said I’m not to happy with Obama and his lot.

  • JP

    This seems in line with the Obama Administration. They are also pushing for the fairness doctrine under different names because “sometimes there is just too much information out there and it all gets confusing” Obama

  • Janet

    I agree with the post by Meg Powers. The liberals cheer the NYTimes when they leaked knowledge about how we track terrorists.

  • http://onanov.com Donald Baxter, Iowa City, IA

    blessed are the whistleblowers.

  • informed American

    Dictators can never stand up to the light of criticism.

  • JP

    Why has the current administration not followed through on Obama’s campaign pledge to air on C-span most of the legislation going on in Washington.

  • Sasha Darmin

    Please note that the Wired article on the outing of whistleblower Pvt. Manning by hacker Adrian Lamo should be taken with a grain of salt, as Lamo’s own problems with the law, including a prison term for this New York Times website hack, prevents him from giving fully disinterested testimony.

    Love the show, as always.

  • JP

    How many years will it take for Obama to stop blaming bush for what everything? I wish Obama would step up to the plate and start leading not following. Pointing fingers towards the past does nothing. He should point to the future and start taking responsibility for his actions.

  • jeffe

    It amazes me how selective amnesia is being practiced by people on the right.

    I love the dictator comment, so, so delusional.

    I have one word on this subject, Watergate.

  • informed American

    It’s not suprising that Obama would nominate Kagan to the Supreme Court. A radical leftist who believes that free speech can curtailed by the goverment.

  • frances

    JP….do you watch C-Span? they’ve been broadcasting congressional sessions for like….decades. That’s what they do.

  • Jay

    What your caller is saying about anonymous security on the web through wiki leaks is crap. There is no such thing as submitting something completely private and secret on the web. Anyone who know anything about computers knows that EVERYTHING is trackable, EVERYTHING.

  • Greg

    Wow, that quote of Obama from last year is pretty damning. I know he’s slick but more and more you can make the case that he is a LIAR. (And yes I voted for him.)

    The reason this is happening is because our democracy is CORRUPT. The people do not feel that it represents them and much of the time do not approve of the actions this government takes, particularly in the areas of war and national security. That is because those decisions are made by small groups of high minded unelected people.

    I commend these info-patriots. I also would be willing to place my own freedom on the line to expose the evil the United States government perpetrates on the world and its own people. (Sorry I know that sounds harsh, but someone please give me an apt word for murdering and thieving in the name of freedom.)

  • Bernard B

    Ms. Radack is really cutting up Mr. Schoenfeld — he seems to deserve it considering his erratic defences. The great American Theodore von Karmann, who handled lots of secrets, made the point that the strength of democracy is its openness and that one doesn’t need too many secrets. He was emphasizing technology (as it turns out, the Soviets stole and borrowed Western technology, but, in most areas, never caught up), but this notion has wide application. The shadows too often protect trivia, incompetence, and ill behavior. But, terrorism tests our commitment to our better values, and we get something between a B minus and a D.

  • jeffe

    It’s not suprising that Obama would nominate Kagan to the Supreme Court. A radical leftist who believes that free speech can curtailed by the goverment.
    Posted by informed American,

    Despite the misspelling of government, what is surprising is how you do not seem to take any issue with how free speech was threatened under the last administration.

    The hypocrisy on the right is astounding.

    Did you raise one word of protest during the 8 years of Bush’s tenure?

    So you as an individual citizen support Roberts blatant corporate ideology and his abuse of his power to give the corporations more power. Which will have an adverse effect on your life. It’s amazing, simply amazing how some people think.

  • JP


    I believe it was during the health care debate that C-span was banned from the proceedings for several days and it made national news. The CEO or president of C-span was asking why they couldn’t air the proceedings but he was getting the silent treatment.

    C-span is allowed to air what congress and the senate leadership wants them to air. As a publicly funded TV program it should be allowed to air everything and anything it wants that is not not protected due to national security.

  • Kalai Mugilan

    In the fifties, television brought about a major shift in how we conduct ourselves as a society, in the information superhighway era, the internet will bring about one more major shift in how we conduct ourselves as a society. Nobody in the status quo enjoyed nor will enjoy such changes, thankfully, such evolution of humans is inevitable. Why should anybody with any influence like such exposure, that would include NPR or On Point for that matter? The institutions that survived the fifties social change transformed themselves.

  • Mike Jones

    Beatty just about orgasmed over Obama during the campaign and thereafter. You must not be listening to every show. You have to listen to every show if you expect to be credible about Beatty’s positions.

  • Frank Clower

    Obama promised that all legislation would be posted on the Internet at least 48 hours before the final vote. It never happened. Just one of many broken Obama promises. But remember, campaigning is not governing. That is how you spin out of the alleged lie. Clever guy, our man Barry.


    I think one of the biggest problems Obama has is the fact that his “fellow” Democrats seem more than willing to throw him under the bus to save their own hides. I believe most people hoped with a Democratic-controlled Congress, the President would be able to push through his agenda and we were in for smooth sailing, but it has been anything but that.The Republicans have been obstructionists for sure, but certain Democrats have been bigger thorns in his side and the cause on the watering down of so much legislation. Goes to show Congress is in it for themselves, no matter their designation,and screw the common American.

  • Todd

    State secrecy has become little more than a means to hide criminal activity committed by government.

    Ultimately, the government’s ONLY distinction between whistle-blowing and leaking is based upon whichever one it can use to its greatest advantage to maintain power/control.

    The corruptness of a government is directly proportional to its secrecy.

  • peter nelson

    The liberals cheer the NYTimes when they leaked knowledge about how we track terrorists.

    Many of us also cheered this leak, so what’s your point?

    Look, we live in a country where history proves that we cannot count on our leaders to behave in a moral, legal, or just way. These leaks are often the only accurate view we have into that what our government is really doing.

  • http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/CancerVictory Alan Kreglow

    Alan Kreglow Here is a NATIONAL SECURITY LEAK – I’ll reveal four bigtime secrets right here.

    … I tried to post my comment here but it was too long to post on this onpointradio.org page – it was disallowed. To see it you must go to OnPoint Radio’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/posted.php?id=63519867926&share_id=131588540194406&comments=1#!s131588540194406

  • michael gonyea

    in the information age, we can only count on ourselves. who is the leaker? how is he/she spinning the leak to further his agenda? more investigative reporting is the only solution. rock on tom.

  • jeffe

    Blah blah blah, yip yip yip, something something, yada yada yada, failed Obama presidency.
    Posted by informed american

    I rest my case. Perfect example of rhetoric without substance.

  • peter nelson

    in the information age, we can only count on ourselves. who is the leaker? how is he/she spinning the leak to further his agenda? more investigative reporting is the only solution

    Everybody has an agenda – even investigative reporters. The best ways to protect ourselves from spin is

    1. To have a really solid education in history, science, the Constitution, world affairs, etc.

    2. To get our news and information from diverse and high quality sources.

    Fortunately money is not a big barrier to any of this. Hundreds of universities have college classes online for free, and many institutions (RSA, LSE, etc) have free public lectures on MP3 by leading scholars. Used bookstores, especially in college towns have textbooks cheap. So nowadays, even in this economy (and especially in this economy if you’re unemployed so have more time on your hands) getting a good education CHEAP has never been easier.

  • Michael

    U.S. Military Plotted Revenge on Wikileaks

    “Most of the report is a measured analysis of the site’s activities, modus operandi, funding and history, which then details numerous documents allegedly leaked to Wikileaks relating to US military activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond that it sees as having handed intelligence to agencies hostile to the US.
    Eventually, however, the document turns to possible counter-measures, including placing fabricated information as a means of discrediting its reliability, spreading propaganda, and of prosecuting anyone within the US military, intelligence or government departments found leaking to it.”

    Fun times, so much for democracy, what odd/scary is reporters work with the government (sometimes) on how to spin, release and talk about such leaks.

  • Michael

    to note this was 2008,

    as well

    “The governments of China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Thailand, Zimbabwe, and several other countries have blocked access to Wikileaks.org-type Web sites, claimed they have the right to investigate and prosecute Wikileaks.org and associated whistleblowers, or insisted they remove false, sensitive, or classified government information, propaganda, or malicious content from the Internet,” says the report.

  • Mark

    Kagan is a “radical leftist”? Huh? I thought the big issue was she lacked a trail to claim she was anything except a law dean. Ironic that the poster who wrote that claims to be an “informed american”. More like a knee-jerk right-wing ranter.

  • Mary

    I listened to the second half of this program this morning and was very unhappy to hear Gabriel Schoenfeld allowed to offer disinformation. He said that with respect to the NSA wiretaps program (paraphrasing from what I remember hearing) there were grounds to claim legality because Congress had been briefed and the FISA Ct Judges had been briefed. Completely aside from the point that you don’t insulate a Bill of Rights violation from illegality by saying it was “briefed to Congress” his information was wrong or misleading.

    Only the FISA Chief Judges, first Lamberth, then Kollar-Kotelly were briefed. BOTH believed the program to be so unconstitutional that they felt obligated to set up firewalls to try to protect even the secret spy court, from the rampant breach of the constitution inherent in the program. Two FISCt chief judges briefed, both opined that they thought the program unconstitutional, neither judge’s opinion made available to Congress. Judge Robertson resigned over not being briefed on the program.

    The other two judges who looked at the program on the merits reached the same conclusion, with Judge Diggs-Taylor holding that the program violated the Constitution and Judge Walker holding that the program was such a massive violation that the remedy for the class action case before him had to be via congressional legislation. Any reversal has been based on a lack of standing, not merits.

    Then there is the fact that “Congress” was not briefed and despite passing amnesty legislation, most in Congress have still not, to this day, been briefed. Instead, in violation of the National Security Act requirements on briefing (especially with respect to domestic programs) a very few members of Congress were hand picked for briefing and that briefing was both selective and done in a setting where those members had no technical nor legal support to assist in questions and where we have no idea if truthful information was given, since the FISCt chief judges opinions were not briefed to Congress. We also know that no one ever gave clearance to DOJ’s Professional Ethics investigators to investigate DOJ’s role (in particular Gonzales’ role) in the unconstitutional program.

    So it was disappointing to hear, on what should be a news program, such incorrect information allowed to be foisted off, without any question.

  • informed American

    Sorry for my spelling error, but at least it’s not nearly as bad or dastardly as jailing Americans for getting the truth out like Obama is doing.

  • Brett

    I was just trying to listen to the show; Schoenfeld was too typical of the token conservative, so I turned it off.

  • Bush’s fault

    Those of you who turn a deaf ear to those you believe to be conservative spokes men and women, OR who deride on this forum those who demean the Obama administration do so at your peril. You’re no better than a Tea Party believer.

    The far left and progressive left have no effective voice in our national politics; your best hope is the Democrat party. You might better spend your time in public countering the right, who currently seem poised to set back your only hope. After all, where you gonna go?

  • peter nelson

    Those of you who turn a deaf ear to those you believe to be conservative spokes men and women, OR who deride on this forum those who demean the Obama administration do so at your peril. You’re no better than a Tea Party believer.

    We’re not turning a deaf ear to them! They say genuinely ridiculous things, and when challenged they can’t defend them.

    I’ve been challenging conservatives here for months to step up their game. I challenge them to provide specific numbers, or to identify specific policy initiatives, or to simply connect the dots. In recent discussions on BP in the Gulf several of them pointed to the Jones Act, so we asked them to show a specific example of where BP has indicated they were blocked by that. And they couldn’t or wouldn’t.

    No one would like a more balanced debate here than me! But the conservatives who post here either just make drive-by slander attacks or they make statements they read on some blog, like the guy yesterday who plagiarized an entire web-page and refused to attribute or acknowledge it. And then they can’t/won’t defend their positions! Where can we find some high-quality conservatives for our discussions?

  • peter nelson

    I wrote: I’ve been challenging conservatives here for months to step up their game.

    I posted on another thread that in college I was a great admirer of William F Buckley, Jr, even though he was on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me. I even got his autograph. He was erudite, intelligent and articulate and the conservative icon of that period. Today’s conservative icon is Sarah Palin, sort of the anti-Buckley.

    As regular readers here have probably surmised, I was a college debater and I love a good debate! One you can really sink your teeth into. My fondest hope would be that someday the OnPoint discussion forums would become a more scholarly debating forum on the issues of the day. We have other liberals here who I think are up to that, but we don’t have any intellectually rigorous conservatives. Maybe you can go out and recruit some.

  • http://www.election08welose.com David in Miami FL

    Where was the prosecution of THE WASHINGTON TIMES for exposing the 90′s monitoring of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, contributing to 9/11 and protecting the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center? America knew of Afghanistan’s $1T wealth since the 1980′s, according to Thom Hartmann at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/7660481.

  • Brett

    “Those of you who turn a deaf ear to those you believe to be conservative spokes men and women, OR who deride on this forum those who demean the Obama administration do so at your peril. You’re no better than a Tea Party believer.” -”Bush’s fault”

    How cute! (I mean aside from the near unintelligible way you’ve written your comment!) You spout lowest-common-denominator neocon talking drivel in an attempt to criticize liberals for not wanting to engage in reasonable discourse. Like peter nelson has said, it would be refreshing to hear more robust debate from a conservative on this forum. Maybe you could never rise to the level of a David Frum, but at least put in SOME effort!

  • informed American

    Why are all you out of touch liberals so down on Obama for being a demagogue? You should have known exactly what you were getting when you elected a socialist thug to be your president. Sounds like a bad case of buyers remorse.

  • jeffe

    Ah yes the “socialist thug” moniker.
    misinformed American you get the “Glenn Beck” award for the most inane comment of the day.

  • Rob L

    Schoenfeld sounds like the kind of paranoid neocon that promoted the Iraq war based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction. That kind of person is the dictator’s best friend. The kind that believe in permanent war and memory holes. Someone should laugh in his self-serious face and remind him this is still America with a first Amendment – and not invite him on any more public programs.

  • George

    This is an interesting article that just came out in Salon yesterday that I find quite pertinent to the show. It’s titled “The strange and consequential case of Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo and WikiLeaks”.


  • tardigrade

    A couple of things…. When governments have lost or have little funds to support vital services for their countries they usually have to step up the intimidation of people who might let the bad news out to their people – to protect the incompetent. If those same people in those governments have been the ones to hollow out the core of the county of capital, then they tighten their rule, they become bullies of their own people and to other countries, too. Like slugs in the garden, only the hidden and privileged feed and what looks like a beautiful ripe fruit is nothing but an empty skin. Societies come and go depending on what is inside of them…. inspiration and talent or.. rot.

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