Attorney General Eric Holder (Molly Riley/Associated Press)
Attorney General Eric Holder (Molly Riley/Associated Press)

President Obama’s claim to have put together the “most transparent administration in history” just got a touch more risible. A ranking by Reporters Without Borders dropped the United States 13 rungs for freedom of information, to No. 46 in the world, just behind Romania and just ahead of Haiti. The RWB report calls the U.S. drop “one of the most significant declines” on the chart.

And no, the main reason for the drop isn’t, say, FOIA crackdowns by local governments. Or even the difficulty of getting press credentials in certain government buildings. Instead, Reporters Without Borders places the blame directly on the trial and conviction of Chelsea Manning, the government’s attempts to round up National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the seizure of the phone records of the Associated Press, the government’s insistence that New York Times reporter James Risen testify in a leak case and the charges against freelance journalist Barrett Brown in connection with an investigation of hacking.

Britain’s ranking dropped three places, thanks in part to its association with the United States. The report dinged the U.K. for the “disgraceful pressure” that it placed on the Guardian regarding Snowden’s information and for having detained David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner. “Both the US and UK authorities seem obsessed with hunting down whistleblowers instead of adopting legislation to rein in abusive surveillance practices that negate privacy, a democratic value cherished in both countries,” notes the report.

The ranking of the United States has seesawed in recent years. Arrests of certain journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street protest helped push the United States down 27 places in the 2011-2012 study, to 47th in the world. In 2013, there was something of a comeback, as the United States jumped to 32nd place.

For those interested in how the U.S. ranking has fared in the Obama years, have a look:

2009: 20th (up from 36th in 2008)
2010: 20th
2011-12: 47
2013: 32
2014: 46

Reporters Without Borders reaches these rankings through a methodology whose understanding requires a great deal of education. Have a look at this stuff:


Some folks feel free to blast away at the United States’s press freedoms without the assistance of coefficients. New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, for instance, called the Obama White House the “most secretive” that “at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with.”.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.