Sam Tanenhaus has written an odd, rambling essay on conspiracy theories for the New York Times (in print on Sunday, but already online). He suggests that the government is no longer providing much fuel for such theories, “since the drama of the Bush presidency, with its fetish for secrecy, has given way to the open spectacle of the first Obama term.” One need not believe in conspiracy theories to question his premise about openness.
As he says, the health bill is “available online for public inspection,” but the deals that produced that bill were not. Politifact concluded: “Obama promised — repeatedly — an end to closed-door negotiations and complete openness for the health care talks. But he hasn’t delivered. Instead of open talks of C-SPAN, we’ve gotten more of the same — talks behind closed doors at the White House and Congress.” (The roundtable with congressional Republicans was a public-relations maneuver, not a negotiation.)
And perhaps Mr. Tanenhaus missed this report: “An Associated Press review of Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that the use of nearly every one of the law’s nine exemptions to withhold information from the public rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.” Similarly, a study by the National Security Archive found little sign that the government is releasing information more frequently or denying requests less often.