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SPJ sends follow up letter to White House, still urges for transparency


August 5, 2014

Denis R. McDonough
Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Mr. McDonough,

On July 8, we and 36 other journalism and open government organizations wrote to President Obama expressing grave concern about restrictions by federal agencies and offices on the press including:

• prohibiting staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees;
• refusing to allow reporters to speak to staff at all;
• monitoring interviews; and
• speaking on background even when the person speaking has the title of spokesperson.

Nine additional organizations have signed the letter since July 8. These restrictions are at an unprecedented level in the federal government, as well as in many organizations, public and private, in many areas of the country. The implications are serious and not to be confused with an ongoing desire by journalists for greater access.

For example, the nation has a history of institutions that hid child abuse for decades and now we have some schools prohibiting personnel from ever speaking to reporters or ever speaking without oversight. We have a history of problems in some police departments and we now have police departments silencing employees from communicating with reporters without oversight by management.

Up to two presidential administrations ago, most federal agencies did not do this, and the practices harm the government and people. For example, no doubt there were staff members who knew about the FDA cold storage room that was not inventoried for so long no one knew what biological samples it held until smallpox and other pathogens were found recently. For years those staff members were forbidden to communicate with the press without a minder, allowing the problem to go unnoticed.

Like suppression of speech, the restrictions routinely keep information from the public. They are dangerous and debilitating to us all. Both the media and the administration would be irresponsible to allow the constraints to continue.

President Obama could have tremendous influence in reversing this trend, which threatens the foundations of democracy and our safety, if he would require that these restrictions be ended at the federal level.

We have not heard back from the White House regarding this matter and would like to open a dialogue. Perhaps a meeting would be possible to discuss this?


David Cuillier
Society of Professional Journalists

Beth Parke
Executive Director
Society of Environmental Journalists

Kathryn Foxhall
Society of Professional Journalists

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