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Trump Wages War on the Press, but Was Obama Much Better to Reporters? (Guest Column)

Barack Obama Pete Souza
AP

President Trump hasn’t called a formal news conference in more than a year, a scheduling lapse that ordinarily would inflame the White House press corps.

Trump’s blustery war on journalism has at times featured streaming insults and threats to punish unfriendly outlets. He calls reporters “nasty” and endangers their safety while maligning their work.

“So much Fake News about what is going on in the White House,” he complained recently on Twitter.

President Obama, by contrast, gave a valedictory address on his way out of Washington praising White House reporters.

“America needs you and our democracy needs you,” Obama said. “Having you in this building has made this place work better. It keeps us honest, it makes us work harder.”

Worthy sentiments, but also dishonest given Obama’s dismal record on press freedom and access.

Pulitzer Prize-winning national security reporter James Risen wrote in The New York Times that if Trump wants to jail a whistle-blower or use the FBI to spy on journalists, he got the playbook from his predecessor.

Obama, who campaigned on a promise to protect government whistle-blowers, made greater use of the Espionage Act to prosecute leakers and menace journalists than all other presidents combined.

Obama’s Justice Department accessed the personal email of a Fox News reporter and surveilled the reporter’s parents and colleagues. They seized the home, work and mobile phone records of journalists at the Associated Press.

Risen, who fought the administration to protect his sources, got so deep in his own legal battle with Obama that he selected a reading list for prison before the government finally backed off.

White House officials subverted the press in a number of ways while touting themselves as the most transparent in history.

Obama routinely banned news photographers from official events. He went months between press conferences and used social media to circumvent reporters.

First lady Michelle Obama took policy trips overseas with no press on her airplane. The White House scrubbed public visitor logs of names it didn’t want in the news.

The Obama administration posted the worst record in history for fulfilling requests for public records under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a bleak episode of unintended irony, an open-government group gave Obama an award for transparency in an Oval Office ceremony closed to the press.

Trump may well end up being worse on press issues than Obama, and today’s White House reporters could be picking out their prison reading lists eventually.

But for now, those on duty there are guardedly hopeful.

Trump has proved more accessible than Obama and has not moved on threats against the industry. He has yet to discover the many uses of the Espionage Act, but he still needs to make time for a news conference.

Julie Mason hosts “The Press Pool” on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel. She is a veteran White House reporter and a former elected board member of the White House Correspondents’ Assn. 

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