Holding Obama to His Transparency Promises

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Barack Obama has pledged to run an open and transparent administration, rejecting the extreme secrecy that characterized the Bush years. But we shouldn’t just take his word for it, warns Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Much has been made of the Obama administration’s revamped WhiteHouse.gov website and of their plans to use social networking tools to open the White House up to the people. But a better website than the one Bush oversaw does not a transparent administration make, writes Garber:

Many of the media’s early assessments of the new WhiteHouse.gov framed their treatments according to some iteration of, wow, this site is so much better than it was before!. Which is somewhat akin to deeming a Quarter Pounder to be a good meal choice because, wow, it’s so much healthier than a Big Mac!. Relying on a Bushian metric for transparency doesn’t just set Obama’s bar too low; it sets the standard so low as to invalidate pretty much any bar in the first place.

And what about the press? Garber notes that Obama’s transparency manifesto, as it’s laid out on his new website, curiously fails to make any mention of journalists. “The goal can’t simply be transparency itself,” writes Garber, “but rather transparency that is processed through a journosphere that is diligent, curious, and skeptical.” So will Obama let reporters in to do the work of informing the people?

If the first few days of his presidency (or most of his campaign, for that matter) are any indication of how things will play out in the years to come, reporters shouldn’t expect plentiful access. Politico reports that the sparring has already begun between the press and White House staff. Tightly restricted access to the President’s oath of office do-over and to his first moments in the Oval Office got the press particularly riled up. Among their complaints: No news photographers were allowed into either of those events. Major wire services responded by refusing to run the pictures “in protest of the White House’s handling of the event,” according to Politico.

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