The Lookout

Director of film about Obama’s war on whistleblowers weighs in on AP phone records

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President Obama addresses the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, April 27, 2013. (Getty Images)

Robert Greenwald was not terribly surprised to hear that the U.S. Department of Justice had secretly obtained two months of telephone records from Associated Press reporters and editors.

"It is consistent with a national security state," Greenwald, a documentary filmmaker whose recently-released "War on Whistleblowers" focuses on the White House assault on press freedom, told Yahoo News. "This is a result of a series of policies put in place by this administration. It is systemic. It is not a one-off. It is not an accident. It is an effort to keep whistleblowers silent. And it's unfortunate."

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP CEO Gary Pruitt described the seizure of phone records from more than 20 separate phone lines from AP offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., as "a massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather news. Greenwald agreed.

"In terms of the size and scope, it may be unprecedented," he said. "It's a classic fishing expedition."

[Related: White House: Obama is no Nixon]

Greenwald, whose next film (tentatively titled "Drones Exposed") is focused on the White House's controversial drone program, declined to compare Obama to Richard Nixon. But, Greenwald said, "it's very clear this administration is exerting extraordinary pressure [on the press], and it certainly dispels the notion that this is the 'most transparent administration' on national security issues."

The director, perhaps best known for his 2004 film "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," called press freedom a non-partisan issue.

"You don't try to intimidate the press for doing its job," he said. "You don't encourage suppression and, frankly, scare journalists."

Greenwald said there are similarities between the secrecy of the drone program and the DOJ's apparent explanation for the seizure of phone records.

"It's this strange 'Alice in Wonderland,' Kafkaesque state," Greenwald said. "[The White House] will say, 'we can't talk about the drone program because it's classified, but we can tell you we killed 20 al-Qaeda members in a drone strike.' Well, how do you know they were all bad guys? 'We can't give you that information.'"

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