White House Correspondents Criticise Transparency of Obama Administration

Erik Wemple in the Washington Post reports on growing frustration amongst senior White House correspondents.

At some point, a compendium of condemnations against the Obama administration’s record of media transparency (actually, opacity) must be assembled. Notable quotations in this vein come from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who said, “It is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering”; New York Times reporter James Risen, who said, “I think Obama hates the press”; and CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, who said, “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”

USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page has added a sharper edge to this set of knives. Speaking Saturday at a White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seminar, Page called the current White House not only “more restrictive” but also “more dangerous” to the press than any other in history, a clear reference to the Obama administration’s leak investigations and its naming of Fox News’s James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act.

Wemple goes on to catalogue a long series of instances of the White House not being willing to release and discuss new stories or release relevant information on issues. This is all on top of reports that the administration is obscuring facts on Obamacare. The White House response to the criticism was as follows.

When asked about this stuff, White House spokesman Eric Schultz issued this (on-the-record) response: “We believe in the value of transparency, and that is why we work to provide as much access as we can. That said, the press has a responsibility to always push for more access and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.”

The official statement on transparency and by from the White House website says in part.

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. 

If the President and Eric Shultz believe in transparency, how are they certain that the administration is achieving this goal? President Obama is currently having to run a lot of defensive plays, more than a few of these are ill-conceived and clumsy that aren’t helping the perception that openness is sometimes lacking. Also he hasn’t as yet sold the transparent open government argument successfully to the White House press core.

My own view is that part of the problem for Obama is of his own making and also he probably has the balance wrong in terms of who is advising him. There seems to be a lot of political advisors and not enough policy advisors, or the policy advisors simply don’t have enough influence. This could be critical for his last two years in the White House as Obama isn’t a policy wonk a la Bill Clinton who for all his moral faults did have a much better grasp of complex issues.

Finally, how long before Obama’s enemies start quoting the first amendment of the US Constitution and using it against him again?

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