The Most Transparent Administration™ Keeps Bragging, Concealing



Seeking to assuage concerns about the administration's record of opacity, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest unctuously assured the Society of Professional Journalists last month that Obama is transparent because he is transparent:

The president has set an historically high standard of transparency that is part of the legacy to which future presidents will aspire and the president and his administration are justifiably proud of these accomplishments.

And earlier this week, on the same day we learned the Obama administration demands the right to edit White House press pool reports, the president promised that The Most Transparent Administration™ would continue to work towards open governance:

Speaking at a meeting of the Open Government Partnership at the United Nations, the president said the U.S. would "lead by example" with a series of new initiatives to promote open government.

So what is the actual transparency record for the Obama administration?

Not good. After all, these are the folks who won't even disclose what coffee the president drinks. From going after whistleblowers to restricting reporter access to obfuscating his foreign policy, Obama is about as open as the front door of the White House.

Tooting the Whistleblowing Horn

Columbia Journalism Review writes that "the Obama administration has prosecuted more people as whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all former presidents combined." Journalism heavyweights Leonard Downie Jr. and James Goodale have been some of the loudest in warning about the current administration's heavy-handedness towards reporters and their sources. Goodale describes the president's stance on press freedom as "antediluvian, conservative, backwards. Worse than Nixon. He thinks that anyone who leaks is a spy!"

Phone records of an A.P. journalist have been seized, a Fox News reporter was specifically targeted, and other journalists have faced intimidation from the government for their reporting. Nor are sources of government information safe: last year the Obama administration launched an "Insider Threat" program in response to the Edward Snowden leaks. The program encourages government employees to snitch on colleagues suspected of leaking information.

Giving Reporters the Run-Around

But even run-of-the-mill reporters are having an increasingly difficult time as the Obama administration tightens its grip on information access. Diluting and filtering what information is released and how it is presented has become the modus operandi for the administration. Journalists are being shut out of meetings normally open to the press. The administration has also clamped down on photography of the president and official events. The restrictive policy has been described as "Orwellian" and White House chief photographer Pete Souza has been called a "propagandist." Veteran New York Times political correspondent David Sanger said that "this is the most closed, control-freak administration I've ever covered."

Bush by Any Other Name

But nowhere is this restriction of information more apparent than with respect to the administration's foreign affairs and national security policies. Access to photos and information about the ISIS engagement is tightly controlled. Despite promises of transparency, the Department of Homeland Security's no-fly list continues to operate in the dark. The administration is also notoriously reluctant in disclosing information on the ongoing drone program in the Middle East—although it loves bragging about its accomplishments in a program that didn't until recently officially exist. FOIA requests are consistently denied or ignored—apparently often enough to justify an "FOIA Denial Officer." Even the government's use of torture—that quintessentially Bush-era bugbear—falls under the administration's cone of silence.

Sometimes it seems like the only thing we do know about the administration is that it will continue eloquently praising its own unprecedented transparency. We would do well to put pressure on Obama to make good on his promises. Or at the very least point out to him that "least" is not spelled m-o-s-t.

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  1. OT: If Pennsylvania is any indication maybe we’re better off not knowing


    HARRISBURG – At least eight prominent state officials – including the head of the state police, Pennsylvania’s top environmental regulator, and a former spokesman for Gov. Corbett – were among commonwealth employees who sent or received hundreds of sexually explicit photos, videos, and messages from state e-mail accounts between 2008 and 2012, according to documents made available Thursday by the state Attorney General’s Office.

    1. Well, it kept them out of mischief.

    2. I’d rather they spend their time trading porn than trying to “do something.”

  2. So transparent, you can’t even tell it’s there.

    Fucking invisible.

    1. Oh, it’s transparent, alright.

  3. If the press was really concerned about holding the administration accountable, they could. Every paper, TV station, website, and individual reporter stymied by the administration could coordinate to spill the beans on their individual experiences, all on the same day. Imagine if the NYT, CNN, Fox News, WaPo, HuffPo, etc., all ran similar stories starting at 8:00 am on a Monday. Will they? Of course not. And they probably wouldn’t have done it to the Bush administration, either. They aren’t interested in speaking truth to power, and I doubt they ever really were.

    1. Bizarro Journolist?

  4. Forget it Lucian, it’s the Obama Protocol.

    Whatever he’s saying that he’s doing or not doing, his administration is doing the exact opposite.

  5. Yeah, I think their behavior makes them pretty damn transparent

  6. The president has set an historically high standard of transparency…

    To which nobody in the administration ever intended to aspire.

  7. The president has set an historically high standard of transparency that is part of the legacy to which future presidents will aspire and the president and his administration are justifiably proud of these accomplishments.

    How was Earnest not laughed out of the room at this point? These people are useless.

    1. Well, like Bob Woodward, they support the president– they’re only trying to help.

  8. I just want to commend your use of the word “unctuous”, Lucian. Thank you!

    Carry on.

  9. “Working toward” transparency or anything else is just an, what’s the word, unctuous way of saying “Not achieved” transparency or anything else.

    They really are transparent. They have to be laughing their asses off at the way their useful idiots can take a perfectly honest statement of who they really are, and interpret it to mean just the opposite.

    1. They really must. I think that if I were Obama I would hold the media in even more contempt than I do the Republicans. The Republicans are the enemy but at least have a little self respect. Given the total submissiveness of the media, how could someone in Obama’s position not develop a healthy contempt for them?

      1. I gotta wonder if the republicans have any self respect…

  10. The president has set an historically high standard of transparency that is part of the legacy to which future presidents will aspire and the president and his administration are justifiably proud of these accomplishments.

    Ripped from the pages of The Idiot’s Guide to DOUBLESPEAK, presumably.

  11. The president has set an historically high standard of transparency that is part of the legacy to which future presidents will aspire

    Holy hell. That sounds like it belongs in some medieval king’s court. I know he’s the Press Secretary, but ease up a little bit.

  12. You forgot the word “Evah!” after “Administration”.

  13. Sort of off-topic:

    Is this President — and his administration — the most narcissistic ever? All presidents are to a certain extent narcissistic — that is one reason they want the job, but I can’t recall any who hold themselves in as high regard as Obama does.

    1. I don’t see how anyone can not see him as a narcissist, with the possible exception that he is actually a sociopath. They’re hard to tell apart.

      Valerie Jarrett said Obama is always bored. A bright-ish person, with a kind of boyish charm, always bored, who has trouble achieving anything of significance, despite great promise? Pretty much a textbook profile of a sociopath.

  14. I had a grown man neighbor who liked to pose for pictures like that. His Che one was classic. Bob never worked a day in his life. He’d usually apply for a $2000 grant from the city to write poetry and the city would usually forward him my property taxes.

  15. Well, to be fair, the Obama administration is transparent, compared to Chicago.

  16. Apparently words trump reality with the Obama administration. I’m tired of outright liars, and the media that doesn’t call them out. Thanks to McMahon for stating the truth. If the voters keep supporting this, then government will get out of control and we’ll lose what we have left of our freedom, and prosperity.

  17. I have to agree with Earnest–the Obama administration is the most transparent in history. Hell, I was able to see right through their lies from the get-go!

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