Opinion

THE FIRST 100 DAYS: Did Somebody Say Something About Transparency?

By Noel SheppardAssociate Editor, Newsbusters.org

We heard it regularly from Barack Obama throughout the presidential campaign: his would be the most transparent administration in American history.

[caption id="attachment_6185" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (AP file photo)"][/caption]

I guess he didn't send a memo to that effect to his White House press secretary, for ABC's Jake Tapper asked some pretty simple questions of Robert Gibbs during Thursday's briefing -- about transparency no less.

As the following video and transcript show, Gibbs wasn't being very, uhhh, transparent:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-4qEz1vea0fs=1]

TAPPER: Robert, two questions. One's a housekeeping one. In the name of the transparency that you and the president herald so much, is there any way we could get the copies of the waivers that the OMB issues to allow certain cabinet posts or deputy posts...

GIBBS: I'll check.

TAPPER: ... free of the ethics constraints that you put up? And, also, the disclosure forms that your nominees put out that go to the Office of Government Ethics, that somehow they're not able to e- mail or, you know, put on the Web, is there any way we can get copies of those?

GIBBS: Yes, I will check. I don't -- I don't know how those forms are distributed.

TAPPER: Just based on listening to the president's rhetoric, I'm sure it's something he'd want to do.

GIBBS: Well...

TAPPER: The other question is...

GIBBS: Knowing of your crystal clarity on his opinion, I'll certainly check.

TAPPER: He doesn't believe in transparency?

GIBBS: Did you have another more pertinent question?

Another more pertinent question? Was Gibbs being intentionally impertinent?

After all, this is what President Obama said about transparency in his first press conference the day after his inauguration:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72g7qmeP1dEfs=1]

The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served. The directives I am giving my administration today on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just that. For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that, if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.

Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known. To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand, but the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. [...]

Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency. Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made...But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country. And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people in the days and weeks, months and years to come.

Did Gibbs get that memo, or was this just more empty rhetoric?

Noel Sheppard is associate editor of the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org. He welcomes feedback at NewsBustersNoel@gmail.com.