In the most recent of what has become a string of failed transparency promises, on Tuesday a federal judge ordered the disclosure of a government-wide foreign-aid directive that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 but refused to make public, according to Politico.com.
The Center for Effective Government filed the lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against the Justice Department, which asserted that the document in question — the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development — was covered by executive privilege, even though it is unclassified and did not fall into the normal provisions of the privilege. U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle found that the documents didn't fall under such privilege and ordered they be turned over, adding that the sweeping nature of the government's argument's in the case was "troubling."
"The government appears to adopt the cavalier attitude that the President should be permitted to convey orders throughout the Executive Branch without public oversight ... to engage in what is in effect governance by 'secret law,'" Huvelle said.
In 2007, then-presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama called the Bush administration the "most secret government in modern times" and said, "It's time to change that."
To illustrate his plans, Obama also said, "When there's a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you, the public, will have five days to look online and find out what's in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government is doing." These sounded like the ideas of hope and change voters could easily get behind. But alas, the "five-day promise" was quickly broken on several bills and despite his own calls for a transparent government, his presidency has since been laced with similar issues.
Similarly, while campaigning on his plans for health care reform, Obama said he wanted to have the "negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so the people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who is making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies." But when the time came just a few years later, it was announced all such negotiations would be held "behind closed doors according to an agreement by top Democrats."
But perhaps what's most troubling of all is this administration's checkered history with the free press. Since it become a law in 1917, the Obama administration has prosecuted more "whistleblowers" under the Espionage Act than all former presidents combined. On Oct. 13 former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr. published a report on the Committee to Protect Journalists' website entitled The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak Investigations and Surveillance in Post-9/11 America, which tells the story of an administration that is all but inaccessible to reporters and that goes to great lengths to control its message and contain all potential sources of leaks. Downie also interestingly points out that the Obama administration has been famously active on social media in the guise of transparency, but is extremely careful to shape its message and still generally "discloses too little of the information most needed by the press and public to hold the administration accountable for its policies and actions."
But it hasn't taken long for many to recognize what the Obama administration has been doing. Former New York Times' chief counsel during its coverage of the Pentagon Papers, James Goodale, recently told the Columbia Journalism Review that President Obama is worse for press freedom than former President Richard Nixon was. "Antediluvian, conservative, backwards," Goodale said. "Worse than Nixon. He thinks that anyone who leaks is a spy! I mean, it's cuckoo."
And it's not just journalists who feel this way. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama's approval rating is at just 43%, 11 points down from this time last year, and the lowest of all post-World War II presidents — that is, except for Nixon's 29% just before he left office because of the Watergate scandal. That's right: Obama's approval rating is only 14 points higher than the president whose name is almost synonymous with lies and cover-ups. Not the best company to keep after running on a platform of transparency.