Journalist Groups Write a Letter to Josh Earnest About White House Transparency

"We believe the problems outweigh what you are calling accomplishments."

At the end of August, White House press secretary Josh Earnest wrote a good ol’ fashioned letter to the editor in response to an earlier column from New York Times Mediator columnist Jim Rutenberg. The article wasn’t about the White House, but was a criticism of the access, or lack thereof, that Hillary Clinton provides to journalists.

But the headline was Plane Rides and Presidential Transparency, and Earnest felt there was a presidency that should have received some recognition, writing that Rutenberg “did not acknowledge the important and unprecedented steps that the Obama administration has taken to fulfill the president’s promise to lead the most transparent White House in history.” He concludes, “if President Obama’s government transparency effort is not even noted by The Times’s media columnist, then why would future presidential candidates make it a priority?”

Oh really?, was the response of many a journalist to that op-ed, formalized yesterday in a letter sent to Earnest from the Society of Professional Journalists and a coalition of 40 groups that include the American Society of News Editors, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom of the Press Foundation and Reporters Without Borders. They write:

You say in your op-ed that effective advocacy means giving credit where it is due. That will happen when journalists believe meaningful improvements have been made. The actions the Obama administration has taken to invite journalists to cover the President’s formal remarks at fund-raisers, information being made available on data.gov and releasing names of White House visitors are all steps in the right direction. But they’re not enough. And we believe the problems outweigh what you are calling accomplishments.

Among the problem areas they cite are “officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people,” “excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines” and “federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them.”