President Barack Obama may have said in February that “this is the most transparent administration in history,” but a new report on journalists’ access to the White House and federal government shows how the administration has frequently blocked media access to sources and information.
“In the Obama administration’s Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press,” states the Committee to Protect Journalists’ new report. “Those suspected of discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests and scrutiny of their telephone and e-mail records.”
“Despite President Barack Obama’s repeated promise that his administration would be the most open and transparent in American history,” writes report author Leonard Downie, Jr. , formerly executive editor of The Washington Post, “and government transparency advocates said they are disappointed by its performance in improving access to the information they need.”
Some of the journalists’ observations from the report:
“This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.
Washington Post national security reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a member of CPJ’s board of directors, told me that “one of the most pernicious effects is the chilling effect created across government on matters that are less sensitive but certainly in the public interest as a check on government and elected officials. It serves to shield and obscure the business of government from necessary accountability.”
Washington Post national security reporter Dana Priest told me: “People think they’re looking at reporters’ records. I’m writing fewer things in e-mail. I’m even afraid to tell officials what I want to talk about because it’s all going into one giant computer.”
“In the Obama administration, there is across-the-board hostility to the media,” said veteran Washington correspondent and author Josh Meyer, who reports for the Atlantic Media national news website Quartz. “They don’t return repeated phone calls and e-mails. They feel entitled to and expect supportive media coverage.”
Reporters and editors said they often get calls from the White House complaining about news content about the administration. “Sometimes their levels of sensitivity amaze me—about something on Twitter or a headline on our website,” said Washington Post Managing Editor Kevin Merida.
Read the full report here.