Obama Administration Fails the Transparency Test
September 29, 2014
We have often pointed out the incestuous relationship that exists between the Obama administration and the mainstream media—a media that have largely bought the administration’s line that matters such as Benghazi, Operation Fast and Furious, and the IRS abuses amount to phony scandals. Throughout his presidency, President Obama has assumed control over media messaging by restricting the information and sources that journalists can access, while simultaneously providing pre-packaged products that serve as government-sponsored press releases that the media are welcome to use. And, so far, the media have bent to these restrictions with little protest.
Where, for example, is the mainstream media protest that they are not allowed to embed with the soldiers conducting the air war against the Islamic State? “As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it,” states one of eight criticisms from Sally Buzbee, Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief. “News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off—there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.”
In fact, the information regarding Syrian attacks is provided by the government. “At a briefing for reporters, military officials showed photographs and video of before and after shots of the targets hit in Syria,” reported The New York Times on September 23. Perhaps the Obama administration doesn’t want reporters embedded in the fight against the Islamic State because it fears that the closer to the front line they are, the more journalists may be kidnapped and beheaded by terrorists and videos of such beheadings disseminated as vile propaganda. Or maybe they don’t want the world to see the collateral damage that will surely occur.
The dearth of first-hand journalism allowed by the administration has resulted in creative maneuvers by the press here at home, as well. The Washington Post ran a video on its website’s Post TV that was little more than a clip of a Whitehouse.gov segment—without commentary to clarify President Obama’s speech. And, during our border crisis and rapid influx of illegal immigrants, the Obama administration forbade the press to take pictures or ask questions during their visit to Fort Sill. Instead, government officials promised they would provide sanctioned photographs later.
Now, The Washington Post reports how even the most minute details are deleted or massaged by the White House from press pool reports. Such pool reports “are supposed to be the news media’s eyes and ears on the president, an independent chronicle of his public activities. They are written by reporters for other reporters, who incorporate them into news articles about President Obama almost every day,” reports Paul Farhi for the Post.
“Journalists who cover the White House say Obama’s press aides have demanded—and received—changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists,” reports Farhi. “They say the White House has used its unusual role as the distributor of the reports as leverage to steer coverage in a more favorable direction.”
What exactly is going on with the most “transparent” administration ever? Doesn’t it value press freedom? And what about a little self-respect from the media, which would never allow a Republican administration to treat them this way?
Perhaps the media won’t be silent on this issue for much longer. The Associated Press’ Sally Buzbee voiced her frustration with President Obama’s media obstructionism at a recent conference. A colleague provided Buzbee’s eight examples of how the administration is obstructing the media on the Associated Press blog:
1.) The administration won’t allow journalists to embed in the war against the Islamic State, leaving the U.S. with a dearth of media coverage;
2.) Access to the President’s meetings with foreign leaders is “rarer” than before. “Think about the message that sends other nations about how the world’s leading democracy deals with the media: Keep them out and let them use handout photos,” writes Buzbee.
3.) Reporters aren’t allowed to see nonclassified materials in real-time for the upcoming 9/11 trial so that they can understand information brought up during the hearings.
4.) Information regarding hunger strikes at Guantanamo used to be released under President George W. Bush, and isn’t now.
5.) Buzbee cites “day-to-day intimidation of sources,” and asserts, “Government press officials say their orders are to squelch anything controversial or that makes the administration look bad.”
6.) Press officials often have to sue to get anywhere with their Freedom of Information Act requests.
7.) FOIA requests are being forwarded to political appointees.
8.) The administration has begun trying to keep state and local information secret, as well. A recent article in The Washington Post highlights how the FBI is trying to get the state and local police to “keep quiet about the capabilities of a controversial type of surveillance gear that allows law enforcement to eavesdrop on cell phone calls and track individual people based on the signals emitted by their mobile devices.”
Buzbee’s list highlights the systematic, top-down, attempt by the Obama administration to keep all unfavorable news from coming to light and to ensure that only positive media coverage of the administration makes it onto the front page.
We have also covered how the administration is going after journalists who talk to leakers. “Are we doomed to an escalation of government intrusion upon the press?” I asked earlier this year. This escalation, as highlighted by Buzbee’s examples, is already in the works.
Buzbee’s comments got superficial coverage from a media more interested in covering for the Obama administration and preserving their journalistic access. Politico, The Washington Post, and the Washington Examiner at least referred to her eight examples.
Accuracy in Media has filed numerous FOIA requests, and is suing the government for answers regarding the Benghazi attacks; Judicial Watch has had to do likewise. And, as I reported in March, “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, a common accountability tactic used by journalists and citizens alike, now serve as a testament to the White House’s desire to control all messaging. …with the normal avenues for gaining information closed off, and the secret ones penalized by the Espionage Act, the press is left to work off of one source—the Obama administration—through press releases, press conferences, and propaganda.”
The Associated Press’ allegations regarding FOIA requests have already ruffled some feathers in the administration. Erik Wemple of The Washington Post was contacted by the Department of Health and Human Services, which contended that HHS does not use political appointees for its FOIA process. “That is categorically false,” said the HHS spokesman, who also said that it is career staff who work on FOIA requests for the Department. The AP’s Paul Colford wrote in response, asserting that the AP “has had to deal directly with Ms. [Dori] Salcido [a political appointee] on some FOIA-related matters…In one instance last year, as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs (Media), she would adjudicate our administrative appeal of an HHS decision—that’s what we were told in a letter.” In other words, the AP can cite a specific example in which they had to work with a political appointee on a FOIA request.
Wemple also failed to inform his readers regarding another lawsuit on this issue by a group called Cause of Action (COA). COA, “a nonprofit watchdog group led by former congressional investigator Daniel Epstein, recently filed suit against a dozen federal agencies claiming they allowed White House officials to determine how they responded to multiple FOIA requests” in the name of “White House equities,” reports Mark Tapscott for the Washington Examiner. “The Cause of Action suit is now making its way through the federal court system.”
New York Times reporter James Risen also spoke at the conference where Buzbee made her presentation. “Media shouldn’t shrink before the challenge, Risen said,” according to the AP. “The only response...is to do even more aggressive investigative reporting.”
If only we could trust the mainstream media to follow that advice, and push back against the administration’s attempts to ensure its positive reputation at all costs.