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Press Advocates: Obama No Different Than Ferguson Police

The Obama administration has been criticized for its treatment of journalists, namely James Risen who could go to jail for not naming his sources.
Posted at 8:38 PM, Aug 14, 2014

President Obama broke from his vacation in Martha's Vineyard Thursday to speak publicly for the first time about the ongoing protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in an officer-involved shooting.

"There is never an excuse for violence against police ...  There's also no excuse for police to excessive force against peaceful protestors. ...  police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who were just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground."

It's that last part with which several writers and press advocates took issue, saying the president and his administration are no different from law enforcement in Ferguson in how they've treated journalists.

That criticism ignited Wednesday night after the well-documented detention of two journalists — Ryan Reilly from The Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery from The Washington Post. St. Louis news station KSDK also caught on camera police shooting tear gas in the direction of an Al Jazeera news crew.  

After word spread about the two journalists being thrown in jail, Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted, "DOJ is lucky to have a gutsy reporter like @Ryanjreilly on our beat. ... Glad he and @WesleyLowery are ok."

CNN's Jake Tapper responded, "How do you distinguish between the 'gutsy' reporters and the one the administration is threatening to put in jail?"

The "one" Tapper's most likely referring to is The New York Times' James Risen, the author of "State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration." Risen was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury once in 2008 and then again in 2010 — after Obama took office — in an attempt to compel him to testify and reveal his confidential sources for his book, which he has refused to do. 

And Risen's case isn't the only one. The government collected two months of phone records from employees at the Associated Press without notice and, after the disclosure, without reason. 

The crackdown on journalists came post-9/11. A writer at Democracy Now! says, "The administration of George W. Bush initiated a wide spectrum of activities," many of them illegal and unconstitutional. "These abuses came to light thanks to the work of investigative journalists like Risen, and to whistleblowers who take great risks, personally and professionally, to bring abuses of power to public attention."

After Obama's remarks Thursday, a group of journalism organizations met at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to condemn the president on his so-called hypocrisy. 

A writer at Columbia Journalism Review said, "the Obama administration has been decried repeatedly for both its secrecy and its aggression toward the press. What’s more, it has pursued more criminal leak investigations than every previous White House combined."

Although Attorney General Eric Holder has said journalists doing their jobs won't be put in jail. Risen has said he would rather go to jail than to identify his confidential sources. 

The video contains images from Getty Images.