Obama Administration Fends Off Complaints About Press Access

Attorney General Eric Holder told a national group of black newspaper columnists on Thursday that the administration tries to be transparent. 

Attorney General Eric Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder Al Seib-Pool/Getty Images

A hard-hitting report faulting the Obama administration for its war on leaks and other efforts to control information — “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate,” said its author, Leonard Downie Jr. — might have made waves in the journalism community when it was released two months ago, but Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., says he hadn’t heard of it.

“We try to be as transparent as can be,” Holder told visiting members of the Trotter Group, a national organization of African American newspaper columnists, on Thursday. “The best government is the one that is most transparent.”

Brian Fallon, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs, told Journal-isms that he had answered questions for Downie before the October report was released and that his boss simply hadn’t gotten to it yet.

In the latest example of tension between the Obama administration and the news media, news organizations complained last month, “The administration of President Obama is routinely denying the right of independent journalists to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing official duties. Instead, the White House is issuing visual press releases — handout pictures taken by official government photographers — and expecting news outlets to publish those.” Some outlets, such as USA Today, have refused to do so.

The black journalists, meeting in Washington for their annual conference, heard from three Cabinet secretaries, policy experts on African American issues and Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the president. They heard Holder recommend to a student the much-discussed 2010 book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander, and declare that prison reform, along with voting rights, was a top priority.

Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he believed in the “school-to-prison pipeline” that progressives have derided and said his department was acting to help dismantle it. He included “social justice” as one of his department’s priorities.

Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan pulled out the startling statistic that African Americans lost 50 percent of their wealth from 2005 to 2009. He said billions had been spent overall to rebuild home ownership, but that figures specific to African Americans were not available.

Jarrett and others made it clear that Obama’s Dec. 4 speech on income inequality and opportunity for the poor was intended to guide the administration’s domestic policies for the rest of his administration.

Obama said then, “We know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles, to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were.”