Journalists Call on Obama to Stop Censoring News
The Society of Professional Journalists penned the letter for the consortium of groups which are urging the President to "stop the spin and let the sunshine in."
David Cuillier, President of the Society of Professional Journalists said, “It’s been building for years. Thirty or forty years of these increasingly controlled methods of spinning information and keeping things from the public. Journalists have been expressing their frustrations but it seems like it’s inside baseball and not really for us to speak out on. But it’s gotten so bad that finally we just figured we have to stand up and say something...it’s hurting the public."
He said the SPJ has written editorials on the subject and held press conferences and that they’re hoping the letter will renew the push for changes. "We're hoping to get somebody to pay attention to this problem that’s pretty severe."
Cuillier said he'd be surprised if Obama responded to the letter but that he would be "curious what he has to say about it. I haven't heard boo. But it just kind of goes along with the same pattern of keeping quiet, keeping secretive, and stonewalling."
"He promised to be the most open President in history,” Cuillier pointed out. “But now he's one of the worst; that’s just a fact, there's research everywhere that backs that up."
As for possible reasons for the lack of transparency, Cuillier said it’s mostly about politics. "Generally in times when a President has an opposing party who is particularly aggressive, it’s a battle over information, information is power. When you have it you want to hold on to it, keep it and use it."
He said on one hand "it kind of makes sense that he would bunker down, he doesn't want facts being used against him.”
But, he added that it really has “nothing to do with” political parties. “If he were a Republican it would probably be the same exact thing...it’s just the nature of politics.
According to Cuillier, the problems go far beyond just the President. "The real problem is the infusion of this governmental PR machine in the bureaucracy of our governments. It’s underlying, it’s ingrained and it’s cultural and how we change that is going to be very difficult. They’ve just developed effective techniques over the years on how to manage the message.”
He pointed to the recent flood of news surrounding immigration and said journalists face many restrictions when trying to report on the issue, noting that at immigration facilities journalists are allowed inside but they can’t have recording devices, talk to anyone or ask any questions. “These are the kind of tactics we have to say no to.”
“Congress can step up and give enforcement powers to the Office of Information Services,” Cuillier said. “They can give this agency the power to punish agencies from hiding information illegally…right now there’s nothing in America that can punish public officials for being secretive controlling and manipulative of information. They can get away with it scott-free and it’s wrong.”
But, according to Cuillier, journalists are also partially responsible and need to “buck up. I think they need to stop trying to be neutral and get in this game. They need to write about it and tell the public it’s not getting the information it needs because of these tactics. It means not going along with their strategies of submitting questions ahead of time for approval, for everything go through a PIO.”
Cuillier added that it’s not an issue that just concerns reporters. “This isn’t press versus the government, this is the government hiding information from the public and it directly affects citizens.”