White House Spokesperson Insists Obama Is The Most Transparent President In History, Because… Visitor Logs!

from the you-said-what-now? dept

The rather astoundingly named Josh Earnest is the recently appointed press secretary of President Obama, and he’s kicked off his tenure with quite a whopper: insisting that, despite complaints from basically every corner, President Obama really is “the most transparent President in history.” As you may recall, President Obama promised upon election that he would be “the most open and transparent” President, and one of his first orders of business in the White House was to promise the same.

Of course, as many folks have been documenting for years, the reality has been anything but. The Obama administration has been ridiculously secretive for years, when it comes to FOIA requests, literally setting records in denying them. The NYT’s former executive editor, who has covered many administrations, has directly noted that the Obama administration was the most secretive she could recall. Even federal judges have regularly dinged the administration for refusing to hand over documents required by law. As Stephen Colbert has noted, the administration is really only good at the most transparent bullshit legally allowed.

In fact, just as Mr. Earnest was insisting that the Obama administration was so damn transparent, Mother Jones had a good article about how often the Obama administration was making use of the “state secrets privilege” to get lawsuits tossed out, such as in various no fly list challenges. In 2008, then candidate Obama insisted that the use of the state secrets privilege by the government was dangerous. But, now that he’s in charge, he’s quick to use it himself:

In 2008, Obama griped that the Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege “more than any other previous administration” and used it to get entire lawsuits thrown out of court. Critics noted that deploying the state secrets privilege allowed the Bush administration to shut down cases that might have revealed government misconduct or caused embarrassment, including those regarding constitutionally dubious warrantless wiretapping and the CIA’s kidnapping and torture of Khaled el-Masri, a German car salesman the government had mistaken for an alleged Al Qaeda leader with the same name. After Obama took office, his attorney general, Eric Holder, promised to significantly limit the use of this controversial legal doctrine. Holder vowed never to use it to “conceal violations of the law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency of the United States Government.”

Despite this promise, Obama continued to assert the privilege to squelch cases about Bush-era abuses. In one instance, the Justice Department scuttled a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed he had been kidnapped by the CIA and had his penis and testicles cut with a scalpel in a Moroccan prison. And now Obama is broadening the use of this legal maneuver: In the past 18 months, the Obama administration has twice cited state secrets to prevent federal courts from considering lawsuits challenging its use of the no-fly list.

So, given all this evidence that the Obama administration is incredibly secretive, what could Earnest’s reasoning possibly be? Well, you see, President Obama has released his visitor logs at the White House. Because, you know, that’s what everyone really means when they talk about White House transparency.

Earnest noted that previous administrations had ?gone to the Supreme Court? to prevent the release of White House visitor information, but that the Obama administration ?releases it voluntarily on the Internet on a quarterly basis.?

?Reporters for years clamored to get access to fundraisers the president hosted or attended that were hosted in private homes,? Earnest continued. ?Reporters now have access to those when this president goes to a private home.?

So, the President has made a few tiny concessions to transparency on issues that really don’t matter at all, but has doubled down on secrecy on the things that do actually matter.

Sure, I know that the Press Secretary’s job is to basically cover for the President and do whatever possible to defend the White House’s claims, no matter how bogus, but wouldn’t the world be better off if there were actually a tiny bit of honesty from such folks? They could admit that they’ve tried and failed. They could say that transparency promises seemed easier from the outside, but turned out to be more difficult in reality. They could admit that it’s still a work in progress. Any of those would at least acknowledge reality. Pretending reality isn’t reality doesn’t convince anyone. In fact, it just appears to be yet another example of the very non-transparency that everyone’s complaining about in the first place.

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Comments on “White House Spokesperson Insists Obama Is The Most Transparent President In History, Because… Visitor Logs!”

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John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are a lot of things that Obama can be criticized about, but I’m not sure this is one of them. So far, Obama has taken 92 days of vacation. In comparison, at the same point in his presidency, Bush had taken 367 days (albeit those were mostly “working vacations”, whatever that means). At the same point, Clinton had taken 28 days, and Reagan had taken 112.

92 is a lot, but it doesn’t seem like an unusually large amount for recent Presidents.

Fun fact: the longest single vacation stands at three months, taken by John Adams.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Reporters want leaks. Juicy bits. They assume things are afoul and want as many scoops as possible as early as possible. I don’t think Obama was talking about revealing political decisions ahead of time or private conversations. Reporters recognize it is their task to get those rather than have it handed to them. There is more competition now with the Internet. That was recognized I think in one of the articles linked above. The Press has to work harder.

FOIA request have gone up and many deal with subjects from the past years before Obama. The agencies still decide (Obama does not since he leaves to their discretion). You also have some effects from requests about terrorism since 9/11 (including post 2009) that agencies don’t want out.

What the transparency pledge covers primarily is making gov services and data more open and to listen more to what the public has to say. I haven’t seen any claims that this administration is failing in that.

Again, juicy bits are not forthcoming and leaks of material not legally accessible are what reporters want and are not getting. FOIAs depend on the agency’s judgment (not Obama) and happens to include lots of material from post 9/11 which is less likely to be accessible than in other times because of the increased connections to existing terror ops or people or what the gov considers safety nets (there is a huge increase in requests of “does the cia have my phone” which are routinely not granted). Finally, the admin has been unprecedented in exploiting feedback (thanks to Internet of course) and revealing the works the gov does and services it offers. Fewer leaks, but more of the stuff intended to help people directly.

Harping that the admin is closed because of unprecedented FOIA requests (more denials and more revelations as well) and fewer leaks doesn’t go against the majority of what Obama “promised”.

> We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

> Government should be transparent.
> Government should be participatory.
> Government should be collaborative.

Trevor says:


I didn’t realize they were practicing being so precise with their language so far back; I thought that was a new thing:

After Obama took office, his attorney general, Eric Holder, promised to significantly limit the use of this controversial legal doctrine. Holder vowed never to use it to “conceal violations of the law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency of the United States Government.

There WERE no violations of the law. It’s all legal, just secretly legal, based on secret laws established by secret courts. STILL LEGAL TROLOLOLOL

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem with bullshit

The main problem I have with nearly anything those in government are saying lately is that the quality of the lies has gone down so much…I have to ask, do you really think the general public is that stupid?

Keep in mind I expect some degree of lying from my government. I’m not advocating that it’s right, but that is the reality we live in. However, in the last decade, the quality of the lies has declined to the point where I don’t find them annoying – I find them insulting. And I would hope that even the most fucktarded in our society would stop, gasp, and say, “are you fucking kidding me?”

In short, I expect those in government to be more proficient at being the piece of shit, scumbag liars they are. I mean, we should be electing the “best of the best,” and if they can’t even lie to the point where it’s vaguely believable, then we as a society are not choosing the right people.

Anonymous Coward says:

How convenient not to mention little things like Obama promising to limit lobbyist access to government only to find he then didn’t have the required monetary support for campaign warchest.

So instead of having them to the White House where they would show up on visitor logs, their meetings were held outside the White House across the street from it.

Then the visitor logs would show nothing at all of the real goings on.

38 various journalist groups, organizations, and newspapers have last week dinged the White House on lack of access. Even to public events such as signing events for bills to become law.

His award he received for supposedly being the most transparent president was in private, preventing any sort of news media capturing the event beyond the official White House photographer. (damn the irony)

There is a long record of White House staff calling news reporters, editors, and various and sundry medias over the lack of favorable news when printing out current events. It is a very common statement among them that they are literally cussed out.

Not to mention that the White House News Corp is subject to individual news reporters being thrown out of that Corp for lack of favorable reporting. They too have complained of the lack of access to report and photograph public events. The White House staff in an attempt to control what shows up in the media regularly posts their interpretation of the event as well as approved photos on the internet and the reporters are expected to get their news source from there.

That is anything but transparency, no matter how it is lied about. If there is a hallmark of the Obama administration it is secrecy, stonewalling against stuff it doesn’t want known, and persecution of whistle blowers that would reveal wrong doing, carefully choosing what laws to enforce and ignore, and ignoring any FOIA request that might possibly put it in a bad light until court is required to reveal what the law already states they should be doing.

Not exactly a sterling recommendation in the line of transparency.

Anonymous Coward says:

IIRC, when they announced the whole “visitor logs” transparency thing, they also said that they would be omitting any entries that the administration considered sensitive.

In other words, they aren’t even really releasing the visitor logs. They’re releasing a version of them that only includes politically safe entries.

Anonymous Coward says:

In all honesty, as a guy from up North (or as way back in the early 2000’s americans would call us, pinko-commie Canadians) :rolleyes:, looking in as a close but indeed outside outsider, he is the most transparent president in history. He is amazingly easy to decode no matter how hard he tries, we see right through his empty words.

Bush back then was at least entertaining while stumbling around words trying to make people think he had shit under control, you knew he didn’t want to speak the truth, BUT you had no idea what the hell he was talking about. You’d have to look deep into congress critters on his side + Darth Cheney to figure out many things. Bush was trying hard to hide things, even if he failed a lot, Obama is just a programmed well speaking opposite who makes it like he wants to do the right things but as time went on only 1 year into his administration, in 2010, most intelligent people saw right through him.

enone says:


Spokesperson: Look at this transparency paper. It is really transparent and it’s from the administration.
The spokesperson waves his hand like he is trying a jedi mind trick.
Spokesperson: Yes, very transparent.
The people look at the spokesperson and are not buying it. The spokesperson points toward the people and says.
Spokesperson: Look a Squirrel!
The spokesperson turns around and runs to the nearest exit.

Anonymous Coward says:

*sarcasm alert*
We`ĺl have to admit that this administration has been very consistently closed-mouthed about all the important issues. In fact, they have done this so well that an unprecedented amount of people see right through the masking(/masquerading) misdirection…
Which is also a kind of transparency (although not the kind we were hoping for).

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