File this one under "dawn breaks slowly":
The stories aren’t always as consequential or as dramatic as a TB outbreak, but Singer’s experience is shared by virtually every journalist on the government beat, from the White House on down. They can recite tales with similar outlines: An agency spokesman — frequently a political appointee — rejects the reporter’s request for interviews, offers partial or nonresponsive replies, or delays responding at all until after the journalist’s deadline has passed.A few observations:
Interview requests that are granted are closely monitored, reporters say, with a press “minder” sitting in. Some agencies require reporters to pose their questions by e-mail, a tactic that enables officials to carefully craft and vet their replies.
Tensions between reporters and public information officers — “hacks and flacks” in the vernacular — aren’t new, of course. Reporters have always wanted more information than government officials have been willing or able to give.
But journalists say the lid has grown tighter under the Obama administration, whose chief executive promised in 2009 to bring “an unprecedented level of openness” to the federal government.
- Yes, under Obama we do have an unprecedented level of openess. Essentially, we have none.
- It's a little late in the game to start bitching about it, don't you think? We've seen the same things going on without interruption since 2009.
The frustrations boiled over last summer in a letter to President Obama signed by 38 organizations representing journalists and press-freedom advocates. The letter decried “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies” by spokesmen. “We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear,” the groups wrote.Of course he hasn't. He doesn't want reporters, he wants stenographers. Another example, from the story:
They asked for “a clear directive” from Obama “telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so.”
Obama hasn’t acted on the suggestion.
When Dina Cappiello, until recently the national environment writer for the Associated Press, asked the Interior Department for federal data about bird deaths on wind-energy farms in 2013, she says, she met a stone wall. The industry-supplied information, the agency told her, was “protected” and couldn’t be released because it would harm a private interest.And yet another:
Cappiello suspected a political motive for the department’s silence: The Obama administration supports the development of wind power, and release of the data might undercut public support if it showed that wind farms kill large numbers of protected species, such as eagles and falcons.
She filed a FOIA request for the records. No dice. “I still haven’t gotten an answer,” she said recently.
The reaction was even more aggressive when Cappiello began asking the Agriculture Department for interviews for a story about the environmental degradation caused by converting non-crop land into cornfields for ethanol production, another administration initiative.Why? Because shut up. That's why.
The agency went on the offense, telling officials in the field not to talk to her and her co-writer. A public affairs official further instructed his colleagues not to provide the reporters with the names of farmers for interviews, as they had routinely done for other stories.
“We just want to have a consistent message on the topic,” the official, Jason Johnson, wrote in an e-mail. Cappiello filed another FOIA request for the directive — and noted the e-mail’s existence in her story about the land-conversion policy.
“I think the thread here is that all of these stories are questioning the goals and policies of the administration,” she said. “All of these have the potential to set off controversy.” While government press officials often talk about having “a consistent message,” Cappiello said, “they never seem to insist on having ‘a truthful message.’ I wonder why.”
This is all great, useful, muckracking from the Washington Post, the great newspaper that employed the reporters who helped to bring down Richard Nixon. But where does the article appear? Take a look:
|It's the little blue type that matters|
Yep -- the article is in the "Style" section. Not on page one, because that's reserved for stenography. Not even on the op-ed page, because that's reserved for the courtiers like E. J. Dionne. No, if you want to find out about the systematic stifling of the press, you need to go to the Style section, where the article is the fifth story listed, behind the latest dispatch on Justin Bieber and the fawning profile of Jon Stewart's replacement on the Daily Show. See for yourself -- here are the first three articles featured this morning:
And here are the next three:
These are editorial decisions. And the editors of the Washington Post apparently think it's more important for you to consider the career path of Justin Bieber than it is to consider how the Obama administration operates. If the Post had operated in the same manner 40 years ago, we'd have spent more time talking about Bobby Sherman than Watergate.