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January 28, 2014 8:20 am

Obama no friend of media, says AP editor

Written by Tom Lawrence

President Obama has a reliable ally in the “liberal media,” or so millions of Americans believe.

I don’t think a careful examination of the facts bears that up, and a speech I heard at the Wyoming Press Association’s Winter Convention in Laramie two weeks ago reinforces that belief.

Ted Bridis, who leads The Associated Press investigative team, said the Obama White House is extremely difficult to deal with, that its staffers are routinely uncooperative and abusive to members of the media, and things are getting worse on a regular basis.

There is a “real, remarkable and sustained” attack on the media, Bridis said. “It’s not just the AP.”

It was a somber speech during a celebratory weekend for Wyoming newspaper people. While we gathered to hand out awards and enjoy the company of other ink-stained wretches with a little conversation lubrication, we also got a splash of cold reality from Bridis in his Jan. 17 speech.

It was delivered the same day Obama said, in a highly anticipated and closely watched address, said he wants to rein in government collection of phone records. The president delivered the speech in the wake of the national and global outrage sparked when former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden pulled back the curtain on the vast amount of spying the government was doing on American citizens, foreign leaders and others.

In Laramie, Bridis told us of the time two FBI agents came to his home one night. They could have sent an email or made a request for information in another manner, but they knew the intimidation factor that comes with having two armed men pounding on your door at night.

He said the National Security Agency had illegally seized the AP’s phone records, as well as records from reporters’ and editors’ home and cell phones, and made them adapt techniques that frankly stunned many of us in the room. Encrypted emails. Messages that are quickly scrubbed. Trac phones used and discarded.

“We are learning. We are teaching and we are adapting,” Bridis said. “The stakes are very high. This is where the industry is headed.”

Bridis said there is a “real and necessary tension” between the government and the media. But the Obama White House has taken it to a level he has not seen in more than 20 years in the news-gathering business. Sources are “scared to death,” he said.

In addition, Bridis said the administration staffers are often insanely profane, shouting the “F-bomb” dozens of times in phone conversations. They call to threaten and attempt to intimidate, he said, and treat journalists as if they are underlings who dare challenge the White House.

I spoke with Bridis after his speech, and he said many of the vicious calls come from young staffers, who are convinced they are right and the media is their enemy. Some seem to believe the myth that the media is supposed to support Democrats and liberals, and are outraged when they see stories that don’t aid their cause.

So they call up a reporter or editor and try to shout him or her into subservience. Bridis said he fears things will only get worse in coming decades, as the adversarial relationship between politicians and their acolytes and the media grows more and more strained.

In addition, politicians are increasingly trying to ignore the media, or only use friendly media. Liberals rely on MSNBC to get their message out, while conservatives know that Fox News is a house organ.

The Obama administration has banned photographers from some events, and wants the media to only use the images it releases. It sees newspapers, TV networks and other media outlets as a filter between the public and the story it wants them to read and see, and with the explosion of social media, increasingly it can avoid us.

In an interview released last week, New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson said the Obama administration is worse than any other she has witnessed.

“I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term,” Abramson said to Al Jazeera America.

In October, the Committee to Protect Journalists said the Obama administration was the “most aggressive” anti-media White House since President Richard Nixon was in office. Nixon and Obama — the two aren’t often paired.

But the two men actually have a lot in common. Both were lawyers, were basically loners, and wanted to control the messages that came from their administrations. Both despised unauthorized stories, with Nixon forming the infamous “Plumbers” to stop leaks from the White House, which ultimately helped lead to his downfall and resignation.

Leonard Downie Jr., the former executive editor of The Washington Post, said Obama handles the press much like Nixon did. That is a poor standard to match.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said this: “I’ll make our government open and transparent so that anyone can ensure that our business is the people’s business. No more secrecy.”

Ted Bridis and other veteran reporters and editors roll their eyes when they are reminded of that. They know the bitter truth.

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