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Obama's take on transparency and access not beyond reproach

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  1. Freedom of Information
President Obama won widespread praise in his first week  office among open-government advocates for issuing a memo reaffirming a commitment to FOIA.

President Obama won widespread praise in his first week  office among open-government advocates for issuing a memo reaffirming a commitment to FOIA.

But he also drew criticism over access and transparency after photojournalists were not permitted to take the traditional first pictures of the new president sitting in the Oval Office. The outcry grew when the only still cameraman allowed to attend Obama’s do-over of the oath of office that night was White House photographer Pete Souza; four reporters were on hand. 

In protest, The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse announced they would not distribute the official photos of the oath or of Obama sitting at his new desk, which The AP called “visual press releases.” The wire service also reported its editors were displeased that administration officials would not allow reporters to use their names during a background briefing on Guantanamo Bay.     

Taking stock of what may seem the mixed messages of the week, Megan Garber wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review that the low bar for transparency set by the Bush Administration should not mean the next White House is not held to high standards. And making government accessible through YouTube videos and an enhanced Web site, she said, ought not come at the expense of watchdog reporters.

“The Bush administration may have spent eight years attempting to delegitimize the people who would tell its tales," Garber said, "but the only thing worse than abusing the press is ignoring it altogether.”