President Obama assertively stated, “This is the most transparent administration in history, and I can document how that is the case”. Obama made the comment without batting an eye or even causing a lightning strike…in fact his comment was uttered with his usual sincerity and hubris. Obama, however, was remiss in not tying the added phrase, “the most ethical administration” in history, to the transparency statement as is often his want.
The President did this as his administration simultaneously battled to suppress details of the CIA's secret drone program that uses a targeted kill list even if the target is an American citizen. Then just days later Obama disappeared during a mini vacation in Florida to play golf (some with Tiger Woods) for four days without press access.
The press that usually spreads rose petals in the President’s path was generally outraged by the lack of access during the golfing and an astonishing amount of criticism ensued. For example, Anne Compton of ABC News said, “The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace…This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”
The mainstream media (MSM) has slowly begun to recognize Obama’s tactics of marginalization, manipulation and a failure to practice transparency, particularly with those that would ask tough questions. These tactics when placed in the context of the transparency Obama promised on day one of his presidency…”to be the most open and transparent in history”… have become of late quite grating to the MSM and some in the public.
Perhaps the importance of transparency/openness bears some discussion. The American Heritage dictionary defines transparency as, “the quality or state of being transparent… guileless, candid, open; easily understood or detected.” From a governmental standpoint transparency can be “understood as the availability and accessibility of relevant information about the functioning of the polity” (Curtin & Meijer, 2006). The professors go on to say an organization’s transparency can be measured by the “depth of access it allows,” “the depth of knowledge about processes it is willing to reveal” and the “attention to citizen response.”
Transparency and openness have obvious strengths that include increasing organizational efficiency, reducing corruption, assisting in evaluating performance and certainly building public support and legitimacy. It can also be argued that transparency lowers costs since the decision processes are open to scrutiny, criticism and positive revision. Certainly in other venues (e.g. business) decisions that are clear, logical, rational, truthful and accurate are accepted and gain support with greater ease within an organization.
The Obama administration has developed and published a statement on transparency to the White House web site. The statement establishes a goal of “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” and has paragraph long sections on transparency, participation and collaboration. Ironically the site also has a legal disclaimer at its conclusion. Based on the executive branch’s record, people both inside and outside of government may be wondering if anyone in the administration has read the statement.
Numerous examples of a lack of transparency exist in this administration and warrant mention, some egregious:
- In May 2008, during the campaign, Obama did not release his full medical records. Instead he submitted a one-page doctor’s letter that raised the eyebrows of some but not those of The New York Times and other MSM news sources.
- During the mid-term campaigns of 2010 Democrats and President Obama railed against ‘anonymous foreign donors’ yet Democrats established new political organizations (PACs) for 2012 using models that allowed a majority of their donors to be veiled. The most notable example was Bill Burton’s Priorities USA. Priorities, in an infamous ad, charged Romney with “murder” because a Bain Capital termination removed an individual’s health coverage.
- President Obama promised the White House would maintain a detailed (and public) visitor log. According to the Center for Public Integrity both the names and details relative to meetings have routinely been omitted. Politico observed that “five junior staff aides together received more than 4,440 visits”…”by contrast, then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel famed for his workaholic schedule, was listed as having fewer than 500 visits.” The practice of obfuscating the visitor log and the frequency of visits continues to this day.
- Both the ACLU and the Sunlight Foundation have taken serious exception with the administration’s proposed changes to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines. In essence the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be given the unilateral power to decide that documents do not exist and therefor prevent congressional and judicial oversight. The DOJ already has the power to deny access to documents for national security reasons; a process that is open to appeal. The proposed change in the guidelines, at core, would authorize and allow administration lying.
- Relatively early in Obama’s presidency Operation Fast and Furious reared its head. The operation was a gun-walking program designed to track the placement of weapons into the hands of key drug cartel leaders in Mexico. The DOJ essentially lost track/control of the weapons that then began to surface at crime scenes; one of which was found to have killed a border patrol agent. As information began to reach the public and congress, administration officials went to the foxholes. Eventually executive privilege was cited by Obama to protect Attorney General Eric Holder and others involved. Investigatory efforts continue to be stonewalled by the administration.
The forgoing examples do not include Obama’s efforts to hide facts relative to Benghazi, aggressive efforts to stop FOIA requests from being fulfilled, demands to force disclosure of James Risen’s (a New York Times reporter) source on a security matter and the growing EPA scandal …the examples can go on ad nauseam. Just this week it was discovered that key White House operatives had threatened both Bob Woodward and Lanny Davis for writing critical narratives on administration activities. The lack of transparency coupled with intimidation is apparently a new Obama tactic.
Even in the face of much of the above, the President received an award last year for his administration’s transparency -- ironically presented behind closed doors. Nevertheless a growing level of indignation is finally rising in the long dormant MSM… a media that has essentially been a no critique zone for President Obama until his recent lack of transparency, openness and media manipulation.
Katherine Meyer, a Washington lawyer and FOIA expert, said “It’s kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six (six administrations doing FOIA work), this is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it.” David Sobel, a senior counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation states that “despite the positive rhetoric that has come from the White House…guidance (on transparency) has not been translated into real world results in actual cases…Basically the reviews are terrible.”
Thus does President Obama’s recent claim regarding his administration’s transparency and openness stand up to critical evaluation? Given the dismal record exposed in the forgoing only a crazed few would give his recent assertion any credence at all. The Obama record can be reasonably called a fade to black by utilizing manipulation, stonewalling, a compliant media, lying and outright threats to hide its failures and scandals.