With the 9th anniversary of Attytood (!!) some day (I'm too lazy to look it up) later this month, there's one tradition that we've always observed here at the ol' weblog -- and that's ripping the incumbent president a new one every year on Presidents' Day. Whether it's President Obama or that guy before him, it's usually a matter of picking from multiple-choice inadequacies. (If you missed my longer take on five years of Obama, this was it.)
With POTUS 44, there's nothing more galling than his shattered promises to make his the most transparent presidency in history, to cherish the public service offered by whistleblowers and to enshrine the American ideal of a free and unfettered press. It was all a lie, and now the people who compile the World Press Freedom Index have made it official: Our 1st Amendment rights are only a monument to American exceptionalism if you mean that we're barely more exceptional than Haiti:
The United States did not doing as good a job of upholding its First Amendment in 2013, according to a report published Wednesday.
Based on its pursuit and prosecution of whistleblowers and information leakers, the U.S. dropped 13 positions, landing at 46th — between Romania and Haiti — on the "World Press Freedom Index of 2014." Reporters Without Borders, a global advocacy group based in France, compiles the report each year based on an examination of factors (.pdf) such as violence, media independence and transparency during the previous calendar year.
The U.S. government was chastened in the report for its handling of two information leakers, Chelsea Manning, born Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. Manning, a former private in the U.S. Army, received a 35-year prison sentence in August for providing WikiLeaks with thousands of secret logs chronicling the U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to other documents.
Federal prosecutors have charged Snowden with espionage for leaking a trove of documents revealing the scope of the U.S. government's surveillance efforts. The former National Security Agency contractor fled the country weeks before the first news reports based on his leaked documents were published in June; he's currently living in Russia under asylum.
Personally, I think it goes much deeper than those two. Although I strongly support the whistleblowing activities of Snowden and Manning that have shed light on many questionable activities (and I appreciate the fact that not everyone agrees with me), what about the threatened prosecution of journalists from mainstream organizations such as the AP or Fox News, or the record-level prosecution of whistleblowers, or the lousy record of responding to Freedom of Information requests? When you look at everything that's transpired since 2009, it's actually amazing that we're as high as 46th.
And now it's come to this for two winners this week of the prestigious George Polk Awards, the intrepid journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras:
Whether Greenwald and Poitras will return to the U.S. to collect their prize remains to be seen, however, as senior government officials have repeatedly employed rhetoric equating the journalism the Polk Award is recognizing to criminal activity. Greenwald is currently living in Brazil; Poitras in Germany. Both are American citizens.
House intelligence committee chair Rep. Mike Rogers – who once jokingly offered to help former NSA Director Michael Hayden add Snowden to a U.S. kill list – called Greenwald “a thief selling stolen material” earlier this month. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has repeatedly referred to journalists reporting on the Snowden documents as “accomplices.”
Look, I think we can all agree that press freedom is a struggle in most corners of the world, even among our affluent allies in the West (I'm looking at you, United Kingdom). I have no doubt that if we -- from the White House on down -- truly cherished and followed the 1st Amendment as written, America would be ranked No. 1 in the world. American exceptionalism? At this point, in the critical area of a free press, it would be a relief simply not to be mediocre.
Happy Presidents' Day.