Is the Obama administration really the 'most transparent' ever?


In a live "Hangout" video chat on Google+ last week, President Obama answered a critic's question about his administration's secrecy over drone killings and Benghazi with this claim:

This is the most transparent administration in history, and I can document how that is the case -- everything from every visitor who comes into the White House is now part of the public record. That is something we changed. Every law that we pass, every rule that we implement we put online for everyone to see.

Some public records have become more easily accessible through digital means. That's of some credit to the administration, but also somewhat expected along with the world's advances in technology and human connectivity. The administration also created the first-ever White House Office of Public Engagement and launched a popular "We The People" petition tool to give citizens a voice in government.

In other ways, the administration has not been so transparent.

Obama himself acknowledged during that live chat the need to improve transparency around the policies and effects of its drone strikes. The bureaucracy's response to FOIA records requests also has been disappointing to some journalists, and worse by some measures than the Bush administration. And it has equated leakers to spies by pursuing them aggressively under The Espionage Act.

Touting the accessibility of public records also dodges a separate, higher-level test of transparency: What information is entirely withheld from public records, through claims of executive privilege and classified secrecy?

It's easy to claim the title of most transparent administration in history, if you define "transparency" as "releasing 100 percent of the things you want to release."

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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