Top News Editors Slam White House for Secrecy, Intimidation
Obama administration "significantly worse than previous administrations"
Some of the nation's top journalists are criticizing the White House for undermining journalism through lack of transparency and intimidation of sources, which they say has only gotten worse under President Barack Obama—the self-proclaimed "most transparent" president in history.
Criticism of Obama's administration on the issue arose during a joint convention this week of the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers in Chicago. Brian Carovillano, Associated Press managing editor for U.S. news, said during a panel discussion that the government's increasingly tightening standards on access to information are setting a trend for secrecy for other organizations around the country.
"The White House push to limit access and reduce transparency has essentially served as the secrecy road map for all kinds of organizations—from local and state governments to universities and even sporting events," Carovillano said.
This is not the first time this year that reporters have accused Obama of secrecy and suppression of information, charges which seem more significant against an administration that has described itself as the "most transparent" in history. In July, more than 40 news organizations sent the President a letter urging him and other federal agencies to "stop the spin and let the sunshine in."
In response, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration had "absolutely" lived up to its pledge of making government information available to the public and the media.
Recent years have also seen journalists decrying the lack of cooperation by government agencies who receive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, despite a memorandum issued during Obama's first term that called on all federal officials to comply with new disclosure initiatives. In March, an AP analysis of government data revealed that the administration has grown more secretive over time.
James Risen, a New York Times writer who is facing jail time for his refusal to expose an anonymous whistleblower in his reporting on national security, also criticized the White House for intimidation of sources. Other journalists agreed with the charge.
AP's Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee said some individuals working in government have allegedly been warned they could be fired for talking to the media, adding, "Day-to-day intimidation of sources is also extremely chilling."
According to Buzbee, the increased restrictions on information sharing in the White House have even extended to agencies that are not part of the intelligence gathering community—and the grip has only gotten stronger under Obama.
"Bush was not fantastic," she said. "The (Obama) administration is significantly worse than previous administrations."
White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Obama is committed to transparency.
"Over the past six years, federal agencies have gone to great efforts to make government more transparent and more accessible than ever, to provide people with information that they can use in their daily lives, and to solicit public participation in government decision-making and thus tap the expertise that resides outside of government," Schultz said.
In March, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that would require federal agencies to update their FOIA regulations within 180 days. The bill has yet to go before the Senate.