Journalists on White House Transparency Response: “Typical Spin”

After more than a month of waiting, the Society of Professional Journalists finally got a response from the Obama administration about a lingering press access problem. But, according to the group, it failed to address the main issue.

It took the Society of Professional Journalists a couple of tries to get the president’s attention.

But when the Obama administration finally responded on Monday to its complaints about limited press access to government sources, SPJ was less than pleased. More details:

Seeking access: A July letter from SPJ and 37 other journalists’ groups complained that “public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees.” The response from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, which came after SPJ sent a follow-up letter to President Obama, highlighted the administration’s efforts to open up the government—by, for example, processing an increased number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, declassifying national security materials, making government websites easier to use, allowing more access to the president’s fundraising activities, and releasing information on visitors to the White House. “However,” Earnest wrotein the letter [PDF], “I don’t expect you to be satisfied. In fact, you wouldn’t be doing your important job as professional, independent journalists if you aren’t constantly advocating for more access and more transparency.” The press secretary emphasized that this would always be a source of “healthy, natural tension” and that the White House would leave its door open for conversation.

“Response through nonresponse”: SPJ welcomed the administration’s steps toward transparency but pointed out that the White House did not address the journalists’ primary complaint: the lack of access to sources in the federal government. “Typical spin and response through non-response,” SPJ President David Cuillier said in a statement. “While we applaud efforts to increase people’s access to their government through websites and FOIA, nowhere does the White House address specific concerns about excessive message management and preventing journalists from getting information on behalf of citizens.” Cullier added that the group is “tired of words and evasion” and wants action on the issue.

Access to government sources has long been a contentious issue between journalists and the Obama administration, particularly among photographers and correspondents in the White House press corps.

(photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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