The White House blew off a demand for openness and transparency from 40 prominent media groups, offering instead a “bunch of spin” that has reporters calling for a public debate on the administration’s anti-press policies, according to a prominent journalism organization.
“We need to have a discussion,” said David Cuillier, president of the 10,000-strong Society for Professional Journalists.
Cuillier, in Washington to address a national convention of archivists, told Secrets that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday sent a response to a July 8 letter from SPJ and others demanding that the administration stop blocking reporter access to federal agencies and officials and end an overall "politically-driven suppression of the news."
But Cuillier said, “It was just a bunch of spin and typical non-response, response.” He added that, “I’ve seen no indication or acknowledgement that it’s a problem. If they don’t see it as a problem, then I’m not optimistic we are going to see any improvement.”
And, he worried, as the president continues to be put on defense over foreign and domestic policies, the tendency to stiff-arm the press will grow. “When you are a president besieged, attacked, and fighting for your political life, information is power and you want to control it,” he said.
Over three pages, Earnest listed at least eight White House initiatives to improve transparency and access. “This president has set an historically high standard of transparency that is part of the legacy to which future presidents will aspire,” he wrote. The letter is below.
But Cuillier said that the White House response “didn’t address our letter,” especially the recent explosion of requiring P.R. aides to oversee interviews with federal experts and officials.
In his address to the archivists Thursday morning at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, he said reporters are “kind of unhappy right now.” The reason, he said, is “we’re talking about conflict with the president.”
He said that the nation’s top journalism groups will soon propose a public showdown with White House communicators, possibly at the National Press Club. Noting that Earnest proposed “to continue working with you,” Cuillier said a public debate should be the next move.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.