Accuracy in Media

obama and reporters

The mainstream media’s frustration with President Obama reached a new height with an open letter from the Society of Professional Journalists and 37 other media organizations that accused his administration of “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies,” and “stifling free expression.”

This isn’t what journalists expected from the Obama administration, especially since he had pledged in 2007 that if elected he would bring greater transparency to government.

That was a great sound bite from candidate Obama, but as he has learned, transparency only works if you have nothing to hide. But based on the number of scandals that have engulfed his administration, that has been far from the case for the last five and a half years.

Read the full letter below.

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C
July 8, 2014

Mr. President,

You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.

Over the past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees. This trend has been especially pronounced in the federal government. We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and directives which were supposed to bring such openness about.

Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level. Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title “spokesperson.” Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis.

In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.

Some argue that controlling media access is needed to ensure information going out is correct. But when journalists cannot interview agency staff, or can only do so under surveillance, it undermines public understanding of, and trust in, government. This is not a “press vs. government” issue. This is about fostering a strong democracy where people have the information they need to self-govern and trust in its governmental institutions.

It has not always been this way. In prior years, reporters walked the halls of agencies and called staff people at will. Only in the past two administrations have media access controls been tightened at most agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with journalists without surveillance. Meanwhile, agency personnel are free speak to others — lobbyists, special-interest representatives, people with money — without these controls and without public oversight.

Here are some recent examples:

• The New York Times ran a story last December on the soon-to-be implemented ICD-10 medical coding system, a massive change for the health care system that will affect the whole public. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), one of the federal agencies in charge of ICD-10, wouldn’t allow staff to talk to the reporter.

• A reporter with Investigative Post, an online news organization in New York, asked three times without success over the span of six weeks to have someone at EPA answer questions about the agency’s actions regarding the city of Buffalo’s alleged mishandling of “universal waste” and hazardous waste.

• A journalist with Reuters spent more than a month trying to get EPA’s public affairs office to approve him talking with an agency scientist about the effects of climate change. The public affairs officer did not respond to him after his initial request, nor did her supervisor, until the frustrated journalist went over their heads and contacted EPA’s chief of staff.

The undersigned organizations ask that you seek an end to this restraint on communication in federal agencies. We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so. We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched.

We also ask you provide an avenue through which any incidents of this suppression of communication may be reported and corrected. Create an ombudsman to monitor and enforce your stated goal of restoring transparency to government and giving the public the unvarnished truth about its workings. That will go a long way toward dispelling Americans’ frustration and cynicism before it further poisons our democracy.

Further examples on the issue are provided as well as other resources.


David Cuillier
Society of Professional Journalists

Plus 38 others.

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  • Richard Hellstrom

    I don’t like Obama either but the entire country is just stupid. In the 70’s You inserted a System To Delete The Need for War into the Executive that divides and protects sectors of the private memberships in our community from war and then you maintain that it’s your right to continue and activate a financially based military contract with our veterans so that you can experiment on them with out payment that expedites the contract in to breech to develop technology for third party private sectors and corporations by frequently hiring and licensing homosexuals who are in violation of state and federal law so they can hire and provide benefits for more people of the same violations so you can conduct programs of social engineering against our veterans for God. Well The White House and The Supreme Court can go get screwed with that story ! Two words come to mind – Collusion and Racketeering ! The entire nation should be downgraded by the UN as a communist country and they should denote these people and our leaders as war criminals. When you inserted a Black Operations Government ( 70’s ) into our government to use electronic and psychological warfare on people to dictate the social order you became a communist country . D.C. and the Supreme Court should take a long look at a photo of Kim Jong because that’s who you are.
    Now your just a bunch of idiots yelling Obama this and Obama that – Get real !
    Source –
    Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein / Washington Post –

  • The Major

    This is what happens when you elect ,twice, a muslim,marxist,racist POTUS who does NOT care about this country,,except what it can to for him & his,,moneywise. He & his Commie buds,,like his regulation czar Cass Sunstein,,who is STILL writing Regs for obamacare,,are following the orders of Valerie Jarrett,,the REAL Power behind it all,,& are Transforming the Fundamentals for the future of this nation. They are so thin skinned ,,that the slightest criticism drives them crazy & they are using the IRS & the EPA etc,etc,,to go after ANY & ALL who DARE to say otherwise,,& speak the TRUTH. I could go on all night ,,,but you get the idea. It was ALL LIES,,,,just to get elected ,,,& then do what they wanted to do,,,now matter how MANY laws they break,,& keep on breaking ,,including Holder.