Trump Makes Government Leaks Great Again!
Orders media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency
First, let's acknowledge the Obama administration was obsessive about controlling the flow of information from the executive branch. The "most transparent administration in history" simply wasn't. In 2015, 40 journalism and government accountability organizations under the auspices of the Society of Professional Journalists sent an open letter to President Obama complaining about the lack of transparency. The letter listed among other techniques used by the administration to keep the media tamed:
prohibiting staff from communicating with journalists unless they maneuver through public affairs offices or through political appointees; refusing to allow reporters to speak to staff at all, or delaying interviews past the point they would be useful; monitoring interviews; and speaking only on the condition that the official not be identified even when he or she has title of spokesperson….
The public has a right to be alarmed by these constraints–essentially forms of censorship–that have surged at all levels of government in the past few decades. Surveys of journalists and public information officers (PIOs) demonstrate that the restraints have become pervasive across the country; that some PIOs admit to blocking certain reporters when they don't like what is written; and that most Washington reporters say the public is not getting the information it needs because of constraints. An SPJ survey released in April confirmed that science writers frequently run into these barriers.
President Donald Trump is evidently taking a lesson out of the Obama administration's media squelching playbook, at least initially. Specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency has reportedly received memoranda from the White House ordering what has been described a "temporary media blackout." Every incoming administration needs time to get organized and, of course, seeks to control the flow of information from executive agencies so as to put its policies in the best light. In the short run, that's annoying to those who want to know how their government is performing at any given time, but is to be expected.
The Obama administration was, for the most part, able to keep unflattering leaks to a minimum largely because the bulk of the federal workforce was simpatico with its policies. This is unlikely to be the case with the Trump administration. If Trump tries to keep federal workers muzzled past a short transition period, I predict that he will succeed brilliantly in making government leaks great again! Maybe some minor portion of national security information needs to be kept secret, but it's hard to see why any information, data, studies, and reports that the EPA and other agencies produce should be kept from the public and press.