Former Playboy Enterprises Chairman and Chief Executive Christie Hefner is disappointed in President Obama for his stance on government secrecy issues.
Hefner, daughter of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, said she believes the president started with good intentions to run a more transparent government but was caught up in “groupthink” of intelligence agencies.
“It is one of those areas of disappointment for those of us who supported the president in his two elections that they persevered and in some cases actually enhanced the use of the government against both journalists and whistle-blowers,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
The interview was conducted just after James Risen of the New York Times received a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for protecting his sources on a series of stories about the National Security Agency.
Risen was the right choice for the honor because of his “willingness to speak so powerfully and to be so uncompromising,” Christie Hefner said. He also takes the issue back from the “fringes,” she said, alluding to its association with Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
Last year, the organization honored journalist Glenn Greenwald and his role in bringing Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance programs into the open.
Risen, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, has faced repeated subpoenas attempting to force him to reveal his sources on stories related to national security, including the revelation of warrantless wiretaps.
Journalist Ronald Brownstein, another former L.A. Times reporter and a judge of the awards, introduced Risen with praise for his “resolute defense” of freedom of the press, despite pressure from both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.
In accepting the award, Risen said the honors should be going to the whistle-blowers who in many cases remain anonymous.
He also said the United State is conducting wars via special operations, intelligence and drones — all classified projects.
“Virtually everything you now know in public about the global war on terror was first reported through unauthorized disclosures by the press of classified information,” Risen said. “There’s been virtually no official announcements, except when they killed [Osama] bin Laden, of any major operations.”
Protectors of the First Amendment must not allow the government to crack down on reporters or whistle-blowers, he warned, because that allows officials to determine the parameters of reporting. Otherwise, he said, “the war on terror would be allowed to continue endlessly because we’ll only know about its successes, you’ll never hear about any problems.”
Hefner said Obama would not be surprised to hear of her concerns, but added she sees some signs of hope for her cause in appointments of people like constitutional lawyer Geoffrey Stone, the author of “Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime,” to a White House commission charged with developing new policies for the collection of data.
The president “might be transparent on some things, but in this particular area, one gets the sense that once you get on the inside you get kind of trapped in groupthink that is driven by the National Security Agency’s [and] intelligence agencies’ perspective of the dangers of sharing information,” Hefner said.
“Access to legitimate information and thoughtful analysis is the lifeblood of a democracy, the basis of which people make decisions about who they vote for and what they believe in,” she said. “And if you’re only getting half the story, that certainly doesn’t lead to an informed citizenry.”
In all, five people received awards Tuesday at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills. The others were North Dakota university professor Steven Listopad, writer-activist Malkia Amala Cyril, professor and activist Zephyr Teachout and, for lifetime achievement, the Nation magazine’s Victor Navasky. Each winner received a glass plaque and a check for $5,000.
Teachout, a constitutional and property law professor at Fordham University, during her remarks called the Supreme Court’s decisions in campaign finance cases “grotesque.” She called for public financing of elections and breaking up big corporations.
Christie Hefner established the awards in 1979.