Commentary Magazine


Topic: Freedom of Information Act

Obama’s Hollywood Double Standard

Republicans aren’t the only ones furious at the Obama administration for giving a group of Hollywood filmmakers access to potentially classified information on the Osama bin Laden raid. Government transparency advocates and press freedom groups say the incident highlights a double standard, in which filmmakers are favored for access over professional journalists:

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the special treatment given to the filmmakers “outrageous.”

“If these filmmakers got access that trained national security and military reporters did not, then it’s telling the public: ‘We are not going to allow trained journalists to tell this story. If you want to know what happened, go buy a ticket to a movie,’” she told The Daily Beast in an interview.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists said, “The whole interaction with the filmmakers appears to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing [attempts] in an election year to glorify the administration.”

Did the filmmakers access classified information? The White House is denying it, but government emails and transcripts obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request this week show that the filmmakers went to classified facilities and met with officials whose names had to be redacted — a sign they were given treatment that journalists typically aren’t.

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Republicans aren’t the only ones furious at the Obama administration for giving a group of Hollywood filmmakers access to potentially classified information on the Osama bin Laden raid. Government transparency advocates and press freedom groups say the incident highlights a double standard, in which filmmakers are favored for access over professional journalists:

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the special treatment given to the filmmakers “outrageous.”

“If these filmmakers got access that trained national security and military reporters did not, then it’s telling the public: ‘We are not going to allow trained journalists to tell this story. If you want to know what happened, go buy a ticket to a movie,’” she told The Daily Beast in an interview.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists said, “The whole interaction with the filmmakers appears to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing [attempts] in an election year to glorify the administration.”

Did the filmmakers access classified information? The White House is denying it, but government emails and transcripts obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request this week show that the filmmakers went to classified facilities and met with officials whose names had to be redacted — a sign they were given treatment that journalists typically aren’t.

There are several risks involved with giving filmmakers access to classified information, including the fact that they’re not bound by the same ethics as journalists – off the record, on the record, protecting anonymous source identity, etc. A filmmaker may feel he can speak about this information with impunity, because he does not have to worry about burning sources of information that he needs to work with down the line or damaging his professional reputation.

There’s also the fact that this information is being used for entertainment, not news value, which is Glenn Greenwald’s criticism. The administration has been very tight-lipped regarding the bin Laden raid. If they’ve decided to share some information, then it should be going to journalists serving the public interest – not to filmmakers serving the administration’s interest.

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