‘Suffocating pressure’: Former ThinkProgress writer describes White House ‘censorship’
Zaid Jilani, a former blogger with the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress, explained this week how the Obama administration frequently tries to censor the progressive organization’s content when it departs from the White House’s agenda.
Jiliani was reacting to two on-air protests by journalists opposed to Russia’s invasion of southern Ukraine. The two worked for Russia Today (RT) — an English-speaking media outlet funded directly by Moscow — and felt their bosses were trying to censor their opinions (RELATED: Anchor on Russia’s English-language propaganda network quits on air over Ukraine [VIDEO]).
In a post titled, “How Working in Washington Taught Me We’re All A Little Like RT America,” Jilani explained how the White House frequently played the part of the Kremlin — leaning on management to push their writers in a particular direction, and punishing them if they strayed from the party line.
“I’m writing this post to explain how working in Washington taught me we’re all a little bit like the good folks who work at RT America,” Jilani explained, “struggling against editorial censors, doing our best to follow our conscience despite sometimes suffocating pressures from our publishers and sponsors.”
The blogger never assumed he would agree with everything pushed by the Center for American Progress’s Action Fund when he joined the 501(c)(4) nonprofit to write about national security in 2009. But he soon discovered that one topic in particular was entirely shielded from criticism — the war in Afghanistan, which President Obama was then in the process of escalating.
“One of the controversial topics that was very constrained in our writing at ThinkProgress in 2009 was Afghanistan.,” he wrote. “CAP had decided not to protest Obama’s surge, so most of our writing on the topic was simply neutral — we weren’t supposed to take a strong stand.”
That was tough for Jilani, a strong opponent of the war. And as congressional opposition to the war increased over time, he found he was able to criticize the White House more directly.
But in 2011, one post went too far.
Jilani had just published a story — “one of the most successful things [he] had ever written at that point” — which indicated troops levels at the end of Obama’s Afghan “surge” would actually be higher than at any point in the George W. Bush administration. And it came complete with a graph, which congressional opponents of the war took into committee hearings on Capitol Hill.
The Obama administration was furious.
“Phone calls from the White House started pouring in,” Jilani claimed, “berating my bosses for being critical of Obama on this policy . . . Soon afterwards all of us ThinkProgress national security bloggers were called into a meeting with CAP senior staff and basically berated for opposing the Afghan war and creating daylight between us and Obama.”
And there was an ethical component to CAP’s compliance with the White House, as well.
“It confused me a lot because on the one hand, CAP was advertising to donors that it opposed the Afghan war,” Jilani noted. “In our ‘Progressive Party,’ the annual fundraising party we do with both Big Name Progressive Donors and corporate lobbyists (in the same room!) we even advertised that we wanted to end the war in Afghanistan.”
“What that meeting with CAP senior staff showed me was that they viewed being closer to Obama and aligning with his policy as more important than demonstrating progressive principle, if that meant breaking with Obama,” Jilani explained.
“Essentially, they were doing the same thing to us RT America is telling its American producers to do now — align with your boss, who is the president of the country.”
The blogger eventually left his post at CAP, citing “reasons of other censorship and dealing with both corporate sponsors and that institution’s fealty to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).”
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