Reporters Without Borders, in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, has dropped the United States below Romania, Papua New Guinea and Botswana due to the Obama administration’s targeting of both whistleblowers and those journalists who report on leaked information.

In noting a disturbing world trend of countries sacrificing press freedoms for surveillance and national security interests, Reporters Without Borders cited the U.S. as its prime example:

This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Chelsea Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.

US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.

Reading this report, one is reminded how stunning our government’s collective efforts have been to target both citizens and journalists who have released and reported upon information for the public good. While our punitive targeting of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden – just two whistleblowers among many the U.S. has gone after – is troubling enough, cases like that of James Risen reveal why the U.S. has dropped significantly in this year’s press freedom rankings.

The U.S. government for the past six years has continued George W. Bush’s post-9/11 calculation: trade national security for some of our most cherished, and foundational, freedoms.

Of course, that trade has been an illusion. While no tangible security benefit has been documented with regard to NSA bulk surveillance and the targeting of whistleblowers, there is now plenty of documentation showing the U.S. as a country in which journalists no longer enjoy those press freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

It’s a score Reporters Without Borders sees clearly – perhaps more so than the American public.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.


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