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American Dream Betrayed

SPJ, Again: Transparency Has Gotten Worse Under Obama

Forty journalism and open government groups today sent a letter to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest in response to his recent New York Times letter to the editor calling for journalists to give President Obama credit for improvements in government transparency.

SPJ and other journalism and government accountability groups have contacted the White House multiple times over the past several years, asking the Obama administration to stop practices in federal agencies that obscure transparency and prevent important information from getting to the public. In the last letter, from August 2015, more than 50 organizations signed on to a letter at SPJ's request.

"You highlight some of the ways the Obama administration has improved transparency in the White House," the letter states. "Yet, the 50-plus groups repeatedly outlined to the administration various ways transparency has gotten worse, including:

* Officials blocking reporters' requests to talk to specific staff people.

* Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters' deadlines;

* Officials conveying information "on background," refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking.

* Federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them.

* A continued lack of meaningful visual access to the president by an independent press pool.

Last December, a delegation representing the 50-some organizations met with Earnest at the White House to urge greater openness and transparency. That meeting followed at least five years of work done by various organizations to study government transparency and the role public information officers play in relaying important information to the American people.

"We have made multiple attempts to convey to the Obama administration that we believe transparency has, in fact, gotten worse the past eight years," SPJ president Paul Fletcher said. "We were hoping we could point to this White House as a shining example of how it should be done. Unfortunately, we can't do that and will have to start over with the next administration."

The letter expresses the groups' disappointment that, despite a promise to get back to them after the Dec. 15, 2015 White House meeting, the administration has not addressed their concerns.

The groups vow to keep fighting for transparency and open government.

"President Obama may be leaving the White House, but we aren't going anywhere. Our promise to the American people is to keep fighting for their right to know what their elected officials are up to. To keep fighting for information and images they need to know and see to live their best, most informed, lives as American citizens."

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It's been a long eight years for journalists trying to report on "the most transparent administration in history."

From a 2014 SPJ letter to Obama:

"You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration - politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies."

From a 2015 SPJ letter to Obama:

"The response Mr. Josh Earnest sent the Society of Professional Journalists on August 11, 2014, failed to address these issues, and despite repeated requests to discuss the issue publicly, the White House has yet to engage in a meaningful conversation.

"We request again, just weeks after the 49th anniversary of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and 239th anniversary of our nation, that you change these practices in your administration."

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Previously:

* Obama Worst FOIA President Ever.

* How Obama Undermined FOIA Reforms.

* Obama's FOIA Fail.

* Obama's War On Truth And Transparency.

* Only Nixon Harmed A Free Press More Than Obama.

* Why Reporters In The U.S. Now Need Protection.

* Technologists Turn On Obama.

* EFF Sues NSA Over FOIA.

* EFF Wins FOIA Battle Over Secret Legal Opinions On Government Spying.

* Oscar And Pulitzer Award-Winning Journalist Laura Poitras Sues U.S. Government To Uncover Records After Years Of Airport Detentions And Searches.

* Obama: No Questions, Please!

* Sunlight Wins 13 Years Of Federal Contract Data.

* Workshop On Government's Openness Is Closed To Public.

* Government Could Hide Existence Of Records Under FOIA Rule Proposal.

* Trying (And Trying) To Get Records From The 'Most Transparent Administration' Ever.

* Delayed, Denied, Dismissed: Failures On The FOIA Front.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on September 13, 2016


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