'Secrecy as Usual.' (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Report on Government Secrecy)

By Gersh, Debra | Editor & Publisher, April 11, 1992 | Go to article overview

'Secrecy as Usual.' (Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Report on Government Secrecy)


Gersh, Debra, Editor & Publisher


The Bush administration may be accused of wavering on election issues, but when it came to dealing with the media last year, its "secrecy as usual" policy held fast, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The RCFP's annual analysis of the Bush administration's dealings with the press showed more than 100 incidents of government attempts to limit information between March 1991 and March 1992.

The report, "The Bush Administration and the News Media," listed a total of 340 actions "aimed at stifling editorial freedom and limiting public oversight of governmental affairs" since the president took office.

The RCFP report broke down the various incidents into a number of different categories, including Stop the Press, War in the Gulf, Freedom of Information, Prior Restraint, Secret Government, Disinformation, Policing Thought, and Plumbing Leaks.

The following is an overview of incidents from March 1991 through mid-March 1992, as chronicled by the Washington, D.C.-based RCFP.

STOP THE PRESS

March 1991: The Bureau of Land Management blamed the media for creating a negative image of its policy for mining federal lands, and upbraided BLM staffers for expressing their opinions about mining and the law to the press.

April 1991: Despite public outcry against Iraqi force used on Kurdish refugees, President Bush, relaxing on the golf course, said he feld no need to answer to anybody.

June 1991: White House Chief of Staf John Sununu reportedly cited the liberal media, White House staff, and pro-Israel groups for his problems.

A press aide to National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Lynne Cheney said her boss would no longer speak to a newspaper reporter who did not use enough of her comments supporting an NEH nominee in an article.

August 1991: A reporter from a Puerto Rican tv station was subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney in Connecticut for original tapes of her interviews with two fugitives, but a judge later ruled that if she confirmed the accuracy of government copies she would not have to give up the originals.

The pool of reporters covering summit talks between Bush and Gorbachev were told they were not expected to cover the meeting in depth, and few of the 2,113 reporters on the scene even saw key officials, resulting in limited access and a reliance on press releases characterized by one reporter as "institutionalized plagiarism."

September 1991: In order to get information from a newspaper on a suspect, an undercover FBI agent posed as a journalism student from the College of Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y.

A reporter from the Daily News of Los Angeles was told the FBI would not release the latest name on its "Most Wanted" list until it had been aired on the television program America's Most Wanted.

In addition, the president told a group of teachers in Maine that tv excesses were a bad influence on children, family stability, and learning.

October 1991: President Bush told a press conference dominated by domestic policy questions that the only reason he appeared to spend so much time on foreign policy was because that is all reporters ask him about.

The Federal Election Committee found that the Bush/Quayle campaign overcharged the media more than $360,000 for travel costs during 1988 campaign.

November 1991: President Bush told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association that newspapers should put Doonesbury on the obituary pages. His comments followed a series in the comic strip about allegations of Vice President Quayle's drug purchase while in law school. The vice president said he was "outraged" over the series.

It was learned that the president's Q&A sessions with groups he addresses were scripted in advance, after a microphone left on following one such address picked up his complaint that questions were asked out of order. …

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