TRANSPARENCY HAS LONG been a part of Barack Obama’s political identity. He talked about it on the campaign trail in 2007. He talked about it on his first full day as president. He talked about it in his 2015 State of the Union. He even mentioned it in last week’s farewell address. But many of the reporters who covered the Obama administration know a different reality. And as the 44th President leaves the Oval Office, we owe him a farewell fact-check.
Let’s recap the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration in history.”
These were eight years in which the Obama administration prosecuted more leakers than all previous presidents combined. In the 2013 Committee to Protect Journalists report, The Obama Administration and the Press, former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. wrote, “The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration.” More recently, the organization Reporters Without Borders cited this “war on whistleblowers” to help explain the US’s 41st-out-of-180 rank in its Press Freedom Index. Obama’s last-minute commutation of Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence improves, but does not erase, what RSF described as his administration’s record of “obsessive control of information.”
These were eight years in which the Society of Professional Journalists sent repeated letters to the Obama administration urging more transparency, when the White House Correspondents Association submitted a letter of its own (co-signed by dozens of news orgs) protesting “Journalists…routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties,” and when the CEO of the Associated Press wrote to Obama’s then-Attorney General to object “in the strongest possible terms” to the DOJ’s secret collection of AP phone records.