Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Clouded Sunshine: The Obama White House Falls Short on Openness. What's Needed Is Transparency We Can Believe In

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Clouded Sunshine: The Obama White House Falls Short on Openness. What's Needed Is Transparency We Can Believe In

Article excerpt

HOW IS IT THAT AMERICANS surveyed for this year's Sunshine Week poll on open government could be so skeptical, even cynical, about the transparency of President Obama's administration? Fully 70% told the poll sponsored by the American Society of News Editors that the federal government now is either "very secretive" or "somewhat secretive."

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That failing grade is almost exactly the assessment citizens gave of the final year of the George W. Bush White House, which repeatedly demonstrated a cult-like devotion to secrecy.

Yet, this is the Barack Obama who in his first full day in office reversed the notorious 2001 directive of Attorney General John Ashcroft ordering bureaucrats to deny Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests if there was the slightest hint that they qualified under the nine exemptions to the law. The Obama administration was the first to put the White House visitors log on the Internet for anyone to see. It declassified memorandums about torture from the Bush era.

How is it that Americans can look at this presidency and see a still-secretive federal government?

Well, as it turns out, again, Americans have a darn good instinct for these things. This nation's citizenry might be divided sharply over any number of political, social and economic matters, but they've proven in referendum after referendum in state after state that no matter how they may divide right and left, they believe deeply and near-unanimously in forcing government to open up public documents that belong to the public and all official meetings on public issues. …

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