Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Brady bunch are being watched by their own Pentagon

So, in less than 10 days' time, many of the world's most powerful leaders fly in to Northern Ireland for the G8 summit. And with them, not unlike Eric Cantona's famous seagulls following the trawler, will come the massed ranks of much of the world's diplomatic Press corps.

It would be tempting to call them the most cosseted, pretentious and cotton wool-wrapped bunch of hacks on the face of the planet. Tempting, but untrue.

If they were cosseted and pretentious, then the deepest swathes of cotton wool will be reserved for the White House Press corps and, in particular, that section who get to travel with President Obama's official entourage.

I have some experience of them before, during the Clinton visits, and they're not that bad. Honestly. They get their name from a weekday news briefing in the James S Brady Press briefing room (Press chief Brady took a bullet for Ronald Reagan in 1981).

There is, however, a curious deference about this group -- not just in the rather reverential tones in which they address the president on those occasions they get to speak to him, but in the frankly tame questioning and lack of follow-up probing.

That deference to authority extends to seating arrangements -- the first two rows are assigned to the 'most prominent' news organisations and woe betide anyone who thinks otherwise. The truth is that President Obama deserves frostier treatment from his Press corps than he actually gets.

All is not well within US journalism -- and part of the problem is President Obama himself.

In spite of being elected on what appeared to be platform of openness and transparency, Barak Obama has morphed into a tormentor of whistleblowers and the scourge of reporters who dare to zealously investigate US defence and national security.

The US Justice Department has conducted six prosecutions over leaks of 'classified information' to reporters.

Five of these involve the Espionage Act, a draconian law that has only previously only been used four times since 1917.

The administration is also believed to be eavesdropping heavily on reporters -- the conference of the Organisation of News Ombudsmen (note: I'm an associate member) heard recently that the National Security Agency has intercepted an estimated 15 to 20 trillion communications in the last decade and will use these to identify leakers and the journalists they leak to.

So when the G8 comes to town, it won't just be the Americans and Russians spying furiously on each other in the lovely Fermanagh countryside.

The Pentagon's spooks will likely be keeping an eye on their own media, too.

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