President Barack Obama has failed to deliver on a promise to lead the most transparent government in U.S. history, more than 50 media and open-government advocates said, complaining about constraints on their access to officials and documents.
The Obama administration often blocks or delays reporters’ requests for interviews, monitors what’s discussed when they are allowed and engages in “forms of censorship,” the organizations said in a letter to the White House that was made public on Wednesday. Officials who speak to reporters frequently insist on anonymity in stories, the groups said.
“President Obama pledged to lead the most transparent administration in history, but we have yet to see this promise fulfilled,” David Cuillier, chairman of the Society for Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee, said in a statement. “His term may be coming to a close, but it’s not too late to make some real changes in the way officials work with journalists to improve the accuracy and speed in which important information is relayed to the public.”
A White House spokesman, Eric Schultz, declined to comment on the letter. Bloomberg News reporters and editors are members of some groups that signed the letter.
“We actually do have a lot to brag about when it comes to our responsiveness to Freedom of Information Act requests,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said in March.
Earnest said in a written response to a similar letter from the journalism society last year that the Obama administration had processed more requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act than its predecessors, improved protections for government whistle blowers, and directed the declassification of many national security records.
The Obama administration has also charged or prosecuted more government officials for allegedly leaking information to reporters than all of its predecessors combined, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Administration representatives monitor interviews with government officials, and often forbid government scientists and researchers from speaking directly with reporters, according to the Society of Professional Journalists.
“Social media messaging is not transparency,” Beth Parke, executive director for the Society of Environmental Journalists, said in a statement. “Connecting journalists who have questions to people with answers who can speak on the record is transparency.”
Last month, the White House Correspondents Association presented Earnest with a list of practices it argued would ensure the administration’s commitment to transparency and respect for journalists. The association urged greater access to the president and to presidential candidates.