President Obama frequently claims that he’s leading “the most transparent administration in history,” as he asserted last February during a Google Plus “Fireside” Hangout.
But that self-administered pat on the back is belied by The Washington Post’s recent account of how the president’s spin doctors allegedly tried to rewrite quotes from reporter Barton Gellman’s interview with the National Security Agency’s chief compliance officer. The interview was conducted for Gellman’s blockbuster story on the NSA’s persistent unauthorized surveillance since 2008 of thousands of Americans’ phone calls and emails, and the super-secret agency’s apparent policy of covering up its improper domestic spying.
At a time when Obama communications specialists seem to have grown accustomed to attempting to make reporters accessories to White House message-control in return for granting access to policymakers, the Post stiffened its spine and drew a line in the sand--a stand on principle that is generally being applauded by other news outlets that operate in Washington. New York TimesExecutive Editor Jill Abramson, for one, praised her competitor for refusing to go along with the NSA’s request that a self-justifying prepared statement be substituted for a pointed interview about the agency’s mistakes.
"The Post has made the right decision, based on its readers’ vital interest in getting accurate and full information,” Abramson emailed. “Quoting an NSA official by name from on the record comments made during an interview with the Postgives readers the information they need to assess the information, far more than a generic statement prepared for him by the White House."
In a highly unusual lifting of the veil on the journalistic sausage-making, the Postinformed readers--under the provocative headline “An NSA interview, rewritten”--that “the Obama administration referred all questions for this article to John DeLong, the NSA’s director of compliance, who answered questions freely in a 90-minute interview. DeLong and members of the NSA communications staff said he could be quoted ‘by name and title’ on some of his answers after an unspecified internal review. The Post said it would not permit the editing of quotes. Two days later, White House and NSA spokesmen said that none of DeLong’s comments could be quoted on the record and sent instead a prepared statement in his name. The Postdeclines to accept the substitute language as quotations from DeLong.”
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