White House Press Secretary Claims Transparency Criticism Unfounded

Press groups: Obama war on press ‘without equal since the Nixon administration’

Barack Obama / AP
July 13, 2014

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration is "absolutely" the most transparent presidency in history, contrary to recent complaints from press groups.

"There are a number of steps that we've taken to give people greater insight into what's happening at the White House," Earnest said in a Sunday interview with CNN’s "Reliable Sources."

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 last week 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 touted the administration’s steps to publish visitor logs—which White House aides and lobbyists take steps to avoid—and increased access to fundraisers.

"Reporters for years clamored to get access to fundraisers the president hosted or attended that were hosted in private homes," Earnest said. "Reporters now have access to those when this president goes to a private home."

Earlier this year, the White House press corps was forced to sit in a bedroom during an Obama fundraiser. In another instance, a reporter had to wait in a utility shed while Obama played golf.

In 2011, a Florida reporter covering a private fundraiser for Vice President Joe Biden was confined to a closet by Biden’s staff to keep him from mingling with the well-heeled guests.

However, many journalists are not rewarded with exclusive closet and shed privileges.

"The Obama White House's restrictions on media access to its fundraising events makes a mockery of its claim to be the most transparent administration in history," the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2011 after the White House blocked local reporters from an area fundraiser.

"If anything, there is almost a Nixonian quality to the level of control, paranoia—and lack of credibility—this White House has demonstrated on the issue of media access to President Obama's fundraisers," the paper continued. "Bay Area reporters will not be allowed inside the W Hotel today when the president meets with hundreds of contributors paying $7,500 or more to attend."

Earlier that year, the White House had threatened to blacklist a Chronicle reporter for shooting video, and then threatened the newspapers that reported on the threats. The White House denied that it had threatened anyone.

"Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday," a Chronicle editor wrote in response. "It is not a truthful response. It follows a day of off-the-record exchanges with key people in the White House communications office who told us they would remove our reporter, then threatened retaliation to Chronicle and Hearst reporters if we reported on the ban, and then recanted to say our reporter might not be removed after all."

The White House also denied access to the Boston Herald because of its negative coverage of the president.

Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a scathing report on the Obama administration that painted 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.

The New York Times’ David Sanger told Downie the Obama administration is the "most closed, control-freak administration" he has ever covered.