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Home > Publications > Quill > Toward a more transparent government


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Monday, August 25, 2008
Toward a more transparent government

John McCain

When, in their boundless wisdom, our Founding Fathers ensured our basic liberties by guaranteeing a freedom of the press, they could not possibly have imagined the limitless reach of the media as it exists today. But today, despite the degree to which Americans can both gather and disseminate information, we are thankful for the foresight of the founders of our nation for guaranteeing the right of the press to inform the citizenry to the highest degree possible. It is in this spirit of openness that I have tried to lead my public life.

It may seem simple enough to acknowledge that the best policy comes from the best ideas. However, the best ideas cannot rise to the top of the public consciousness and gain saliency without the highest level of open and honest debate.

In our future, as in our past, the greatness of our country has relied upon dedicated Americans who have had the freedom to explore, debate, and challenge existing ideas and policies. Often, the press is both the vehicle and the impetus for such change. It is for this reason that I have always felt inclined to share my vision with the press to the point that they run out of questions or no longer feel like listening. Through this method, I hope that I may reach the American people and convince them that I am worthy of their trust.

I am very thankful that I have been given the opportunity to offer my vision to the American people. In turn, I have done my best to allow them to respond and question my positions, either directly or through their representatives in the press, to the greatest degree possible. It is for this reason that I so prefer the town hall format for interacting with voters. I do not wish to deceive voters about my positions, and although I am in the business of winning votes, I feel it is my duty to tell people the truth about where I stand and what I plan to do, even if doing so means that I tell them things they don’t wish to hear.

However, I feel the relationship between politicians and the media can be very adversarial at times. So often you hear about campaigns seeking to “control the message,” which simply means giving the press as little information as possible, while still giving them enough to write a story on you. When this happens, members of the media try their best to utilize their limited moments with the candidate to trip them up by making them say something newsworthy, off-message or even shocking. The unfortunate result of this is that nobody wins: The politician is unable to communicate his vision, the reporter cannot write a good story and the voter is denied good information from which to make his or her decision.

This game of cat and mouse occurs outside politics as well, but sometimes with more worrisome consequences. I have little patience for stories that make previously classified information public. Such stories make it harder for our fighting men and women to do their job of keeping us safe. However, I know that they also fight to keep us free, and although laws such as the Free Flow of Information Act and other so-called shield laws can amount to a license to do harm, they are also a license to do good. I wrestled tremendously with my decision on this bill and those like it, but eventually decided to support these measures. I agree with the words of James Madison when he said:

“[S]ome degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press. It has accordingly been decided, by the practice of the states, that it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits.”

I know that over the course of this campaign, as I have done before, I will question the level of access I give to the press. There will be times when this benefits me politically, and times when it does not. However, in all situations I know I will have done the American people a service if I have been able to contribute to an informed and spirited debate about the future of our nation.

Editor’s note: Quill tried repeatedly, beginning in June, to obtain a column from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama about his views on access to open records and press freedoms. By press time, Aug. 20, we had received no column and were forced to print without it.

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