Former journalist discusses implications of government overreach with Obama administration

Rachel Nania, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Some consider the presidency of Richard Nixon a time plagued with corruption and discriminatory investigations.

And now, in the light of recent developments concerning unfair treatment of conservative groups by the IRS and the Justice Department’s monitoring of the Associated Press’ phone records, Americans are comparing the Obama administration to Nixon’s era.

Former CBS correspondent and author of “The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed” Marvin Kalb explains there are a lot of similarities in the two administrations. However, there is one major difference.

“The Nixon administration operated all of these activities directly out of the White House under the president’s supervision,” explains Kalb, who was investigated by the IRS five years in a row during Nixon’s presidency for what he describes as criticizing the president’s approach to ending the Vietnam War. “In this particular case, what we are finding with the Obama administration is a degree of dysfunction where the White House might be involved, but probably isn’t, and a lot of rogue elements are running around his administration — doing things that they obviously shouldn’t.”

However, Kalb says Obama’s apparent lack of direct involvement is not necessarily a good thing. It gives the impression that the president is not good at managing the government, he explains.

Kalb says without an appropriate handle on the government, the administration risks a government overreach, which may have happened in the case of the IRS and AP incidents.

According to Kalb, there are certain rules that govern the way in which the Department of Justice deals with the media — and those rules must be followed.

“The media, 99 times out of 100, is approached by the government on an issue involving national security. (The media) will not only listen to the government, but will do what the government wants it to do, which is what the AP did in this case,” he says.

Kalb explains the media waited five days before releasing a story detailing a CIA operation in Yemen because the government said it threatened national interest. However, when asked to wait an additional day so the administration could “work the PR as best it could,” the AP, instead, ran the story.

“The government got angry and began this massive effort to intrude into the functioning of the free press. That is an unacceptable line that is being crossed. One of the things that governments tend to forget is that a free press is the lubricant of democracy. Leaks are part of the way in which the government works. Leaks provide information to the public. Leaks are a way of getting the whistle blower an opportunity to speak out. The media’s responsibility is to take that information, handle it responsibly, but then give it to the public. That’s the whole point. The public must be informed,” Kalb says.

Despite the incidents this week, Kalb says the administration has the opportunity to right itself, and that Obama’s ousting of Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was a start.

“The American people are a forgiving people, and we tend to forget the bad stuff and latch on to some of the good stuff,” Kalb says. “And I think this administration will try very hard in the immediate future to try to turn the ship of state around — away from scandal, toward a success in a number of different areas.”

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