Transparency

Government Control-Freakery 'a form of censorship' Say Journalists

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The Obama administration's spat with pretty much the entire media over transparency (or lack thereof) is all in good fun, insists White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "They're all journalists," he commented about critics of the administration. "The day that they sort of sit back and say, you know, we don't need to write a letter, the White House is telling us everything that they're supposed to, is the day that they're no longer doing their jobs."

But the 40-plus journalism groups that last week accused the federal government of "a form of censorship" don't see it as the usual push and pull between politicians and their friendly rivals in the media. In a co-signed letter, they complain that "Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees."

With specific regard to the Obama administration, they write:

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring "a new era of openness" to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about. 

Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level. Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title "spokesperson." Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis.

In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.

The letter contrasts the current crackdown with the relatively open access available before this century. "Only in the past two administrations have media access controls been tightened at most agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with journalists without surveillance."

The current, widely distributed, letter echoes a 2013 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists. That document pointed out:

U.S. President Barack Obama came into office pledging open government, but he has fallen short of his promise. Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists.

In February of last year, President Obama patted himself on the back, claiming "This is the most transparent administration in history."

Last week's letter suggests there aren't too many people left sharing his Kool-Aid. The full letter can be found at the Society of Professional Journalists' Website.

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30 responses to “Government Control-Freakery 'a form of censorship' Say Journalists

  1. Isn’t it amazing how racist the entire American news media is? That’s the only reason they cold possibly feel this way, right?

    1. Don’t exaggerate. It’s only the primary reason they could possibly feel that way.

  2. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest

    Next up: Defense Secretary Joe Pacifist.

  3. The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government ? and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

    And you believed him? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    1. And you believed him?

      It would be racist not to.

    2. Of course they believed him, he’s on team blue you know, the good team. Unlike that other bad buy who was on the wrong team.

    3. And you believed him twice.

  4. something about a hoist and petard comes to mind in reading the lamentations of the journos.

  5. Too bad we don’t have an evil GOP POTUS at this time. If we did, some of these concerns might actually gain traction. As it is, the press will, in the end, just sit down and shut up before they cause a worse crisis, aforementionted GOP POTUS, again.

  6. Even after 6 years, most political journalists still haven’t figured out that if you put a product of the thuggish, corrupt Daley machine into the White House, you’re going to have a thuggish, corrupt White House.

    Obama is running the White House exactly the way a Daley machinist would do it. Who could have seen that coming?

  7. Nice alt+text, 2chilis.

  8. It’s kinda funny that Baghdad Bob couldn’t even get a job in the current WH press office because he’s too honest.

    And by “funny,” I mean horrifyingly sad.

  9. Shorter Josh Earnest: You fucked up. You trusted us. Hey, make the best of it. Maybe we can help.

  10. How did that camera get in Warty’s trunk?

    1. I thought that was a profile picture form SugarFree’s Dungeon?

      1. God, her bangs are awful! And look at those split ends.

        That girl needs a haircut really bad.

        1. I’ll drive her to the hair salon if it would help make you happier.

        2. Just because you’ve been kidnapped gives no reason not to strive to look your best.

          1. Thank you, SF. I assumed this went without saying but I guess there are still some heathens out there.

            1. Kids these days… [shakes head ruefully]

  11. “Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees.”

    I saw this in the military. Back in the day, shit was either classified or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, you could talk about it openly.

    Then came “OPSEC” (operational security). The theory was that the “enemy” could glean classified information by knowing several pieces of unclassified information. They started to tell us not to speak about job-related unclassified information with civilians.

    A thinking man might deduce where such a policy would lead. Now (or when I left) you can’t talk about anything that goes on at work. And it has more to do with fearing scandal than actual security.

    Not good when you can’t tell the people paying the bills what their money is buying.

    1. I would guess that at least 33% of things are classified because they make the government look bad. There are so many things that are classified that shouldn’t be.

      1. Oh, and then there’s the incompetence on the other end. I live 1/8 mile from a spy satellite assembly facility, and their security sucks. A well-trained eye can figure out quite a bit about what’s going on there by driving through the parking lot (yes, the parking lot is open to the public).

      2. I can honestly say, in 20 years with a TS SCI clearance, I have never once, personally, seen something (actually) classified for the purpose of covering up wrongdoing.

        It was more like, “don’t talk about that, because outsiders won’t understand and will get the wrong idea.” Better to keep EVERYTHING to yourselves so folks won’t get the wrong impression. These types of things were not actually “classified”, we were simply instructed to not make them public knowledge.

        Such practices, I believe, have the unintended consequences of breeding mistrust.

        There was, however, a tendency to over-classify shit. When in doubt, classify to the highest level. Also a mistake, for a myriad of reasons, IMHO.

        1. I’m going to walk back my statement a bit, as I’m not sure “classified” is the right term.

          But take Benghazi, for example. Every person with knowledge of the incident has been coerced into signing multiple NDAs. The families of the victims weren’t even allowed to find out what happened to their loved ones until they signed.

          I’m fine with protecting sources, methods, capabilities, and technologies from the enemy. None of that applies to Benghazi, nor does it apply to countless other instances. It’s all about hiding colossal fuckups and incompetence from the voting public.

          1. And I’ll walk back mine some. I cannot and will not vouch for what happens outside the military.

  12. Well duh, corporations don’t have rights and the media are all corporations therefore they don’t have any rights and so the government can tell them what to and not to print and they can’t do anything about it.

  13. Perhaps the journalists are too lazy or time constrained to dig deeper than an interview with some official.

    “The Directing Director of the Department of Redundancy Department won’t talk to me, So I’ll just copy and paste this press release.”

    Say what you want about I.F. Stone, he knew how to dig stuff up. As he put it,

    “I made no claims to inside stuff. I tried to give information which could be documented, so the reader could check it for himself…Reporters tend to be absorbed by the bureaucracies they cover; they take on the habits, attitudes, and even accents of the military or the diplomatic corps.”

    1. Which is I find the breathless claim that this behavior is an attack on free expression amusing. Whether or not transparency is a good idea, the executive branch is not constitutionally mandated to do journalist’s jobs for them.

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