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The U.S. Press and Repression in the Obama Era


We are supposed to take seriously the outrage coming from members of the corporate press in response to the revelation that the Obama administration’s ever expanding use of executive powers to intimidate and crush dissent had turned its focus on the U.S. press.

But those of us who have consistently struggled to defend the human rights of the victims of the repressive national security state over the last few years have a few very simple questions for the press – where was the outrage or even concern when the target of the State was the “usual suspects” of Black, Brown and poor folks and their ‘radical” sympathizers?   Why was there so little concern expressed by the Press when Obama’s national security apparatus conducted raids on oppositional organizations, expanded the infiltration of lawful organizations and increased domestic electronic and communication surveillance?  And when this administration shamelessly claimed the power to be the judge, jury and executioner of anyone that ended up on one of its kill lists, including U.S. citizens, why didn’t this incredible abuse of State power garner at least some serious concern from the press, let alone outrage?

Of course only the most unprincipled sycophants of the Obama administration would disagree that focusing the repressive state apparatus on working journalists and the outlets they work for is a dramatic abuse of Executive power.  Yet in the run-up to this moment of outrage the press seemed reluctant to seriously consider what was so obvious to many of us. That the Obama Presidency, from the beginning,  was  clearly committed to maintaining  and even building on the trajectory of expanding Executive power which began during the Bush administration that narrowed the range of constitutional and human rights of individuals and groups in the U.S.

The liberal press was so caught-up in this cult of personality that was so much a part of the Obama phenomenon,  it did not see or choose to ignore that the Obama administration’s approach to civil liberties turned his administration into act three of the Bush administration.  So While the Obama administration used the espionage act to clamp down on whistle-blowers,  its’ Department of Homeland Security coordinated the national repression of Occupy Wall street and its’ lawyers defended the Bush administration’s position that opposed allowing individual suites against the government agencies and telecom companies accused of engaging in warrantless electronic surveillance,  the only voices of concern came from the marginalized radical press.

And even though the press was warned that the legal theories advanced by the Obama administration in the criminal investigation of WikiLeaks could be easily applied to criminalize the acts of mainstream journalists,  the press choose instead not to defend Julius Assange and Wikileaks.  For the bourgeois press, it appears that they believed that since they gleefully parroted the government line on issues from Libya to the need for deficit reduction, the government would never turn its repressive attention on it.

But now with the attack on Associated Press and the designation of James Rosen as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the government’s persecution of Stephen Kim, some mainstream journalists are finally giving a little more attention to the dangerously expanding power of the national security state. When many of us were attempting to educate the people on the threat posed to civil liberties and human rights by the National Defense Authorization Act, the corporate press never made the connection that under the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans that one day it could apply to members of their profession.

Even today with the new outrage from the press on the abusive use of power by this administration, the  press still does not seem to understand the dangers inherit in the unchecked power of the State.  It gave scant attention to the recent declaration by the administration that it has the right under the morally dubious “Authorization for use of military force” legislation passed by the U.S. congress, to wage global war for a period into infinity. And the press still dutifully presents anonymous government sources in a one-sided, pro-war perspective on the situation in Syria.

It has only been those of us from the margins who have been trying to signal the alarm to the American people that the country is perilously close to normalizing police state practices.  We raise the alarm primarily because we understand and have experienced first-hand the awesome power of the State’s repressive apparatus.  And while we know that we are the first to be targeted – the message communicated with the designation of Assata Shakur as a “most wanted terrorist” was clear for us in the radical Black movement- we also know that we are not going to be the only targets this time around.

So even with all of the limitations, we welcome the questions that are finally being raised by some elements of the corporate press.  We certainly don’t have illusions that the corporate media will help the people to understand the economic and political stakes in play during this period but the increased attention by the press with the imperial Presidency of Barack Obama might reveal to some members of the public the extent to which their democratic and human rights have been undermined over the last decade under President Bush and now President Obama.

Paulo Freire, the radical Brazilian educator, reminded us that taking action against oppression is only possible when the people have developed critical consciousness.  In this strange and surreal period that characterizes U.S. politics where right-wing libertarians seem to be aligned with left-wing radicals to defend bourgeois rights against the encroachments of an oppressive state  supported by liberals and traditional conservatives,  the more debate that takes place and information disseminated the more possible that people will be shaken out of the Obama induced fog and recognize that they are living through one of the most repressive periods in the history of this country. Those of us on the frontline of the fight to defend democracy and human rights hope that with this new critical consciousness more people will be prepared to act to defend themselves and their fundamental human rights.

Ajamu Baraka is a long-time human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity  Movements  in the United States.  He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Baraka is currently living in Cali, Colombia. 

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst. Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. He is a contributor to “Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence” (CounterPunch Books, 2014). He can be reached at www.AjamuBaraka.com

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