The White House responded Monday to criticism from dozens of leading press organizations and transparency groups, saying it has improved access to public officials, whistleblower protections, and declassified documents.
White House press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a letter to the Society of Professional Journalists that the administration has “dedicated significant time and resources to upholding the President’s commitment to lead an open and responsive government.”
“And we’ve made important progress expanding access to the President and his aides, protecting whistleblowers, simplifying government websites, streamlining FOIA requests, and disclosing previously classified information,” Earnest wrote.
SPJ president David Cuillier called the White House letter “typical spin and response through non-response.”
“While we applaud efforts to 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,” Cuillier said in a statement. “I’m hopeful the administration is sincere in its promise to increase openness and rectify the problems. But we want action. We are tired of words and evasion.”
Thirty-eight national press groups and transparency organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists and the Poynter Institute, sent a letter to the White House in July criticizing the Obama administration’s “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies.”
“Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees,” the letter reads. “This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship—an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.”
Earnest’s letter did not address the administration’s public affairs policies.
Upon entering office, President Obama pledged to run “the most transparent administration in history,” but many press groups and transparency advocates say the Obama administration has fallen far short of its lofty goals.
“I spoke every day almost to our national security team in Washington,” ex-New York Times editor Jill Abramson said in a July interview on Fox News. “All of the reporters said to me there's never been a more difficult atmosphere in which to do the work they do than now.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists released a scathing report last year on the Obama administration, painting the White House as vindictive and controlling.
“The Obama administration’s aggressive war on leaks, and its determined efforts to control information that the news media needs to hold the government accountable for its actions, are without equal since the Nixon administration and in direct conflict with President Obama’s often-stated goal of making his administration the most transparent in American history,” former Washington Post executive editor and report author Leonard Downie, Jr. said.