When President Obama presented legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee with the Medal of Freedom on Wednesday, it was impossible not to detect a certain irony in the air.
Obama lavishly praised Bradlee for unleashing "a new era of investigative journalism, holding America's leaders accountable and reminding us that our freedom as a nation rests on our freedom of the press."
Stirring words, to be sure, but especially interesting to hear from someone whose administration's attitude towards the press has been frequently compared to Richard Nixon's.
Bradlee's protege and successor, Leonard Downie, Jr., would probably have something to say about Obama's comments. After all, it was Downie who recently published a report on the Obama administration in which he wrote that the White House's pursuit of journalists was without precedent.
Downie is not alone in this kind of talk. AP CEO Gary Pruitt said in October that the Justice Department's surveillance of the wire service, along with its hyper-aggressive prosecution of a host of other leak cases, "could not have been more tailor-made to comfort authoritarian regimes who want to suppress the news media."
Press freedom groups have similarly condemned the DOJ's actions.
So, when Obama paid tribute to the glories of an investigative press, it was a bit difficult to know just which press he was referring to.
Some on Twitter sensed the cognitive dissonance:
President Obama gives Ben Bradlee the Medal of Freedom, citing devotion to challenging government. Meanwhile, war against NSA leaks rages on
— Nicholas J.C. Pistor (@nickpistor) August 26, 2013
In hypocrisy news: Obama to present Presidential Medal of Freedom... to Ben Bradlee, who oversaw WaPo Watergate covg http://t.co/Od8PN6vBai
— Caitlin Graf (@caitcetera) August 9, 2013