- (Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Last year was the worst ever for transparency in the Obama administration, an analysis of Freedom of Information Act requests conducted by The Associated Press finds.
The administration cited national security as a reason for denying FOIA requests 8,496 times, which is a 57 percent increase from 2012 and over twice as often as the denials in 2009, Barack Obama's first year as president. Responsiveness to FOIA requests is commonly used to measure the transparency of an administration.
"The administration cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests, the analysis found," AP wrote Sunday.
In his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised that his administration would be the most transparent in history. Journalists and editors, though, often complain that his administration is one of the most closed they have covered.
In January, Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times who has covered every president since Ronald Reagan, said the Obama administration is the most secretive she has ever dealt with.
The AP analysis suggests that the suppression of information in the administration is getting worse with each passing year.
AP's analysis came just a month after Reporters Without Borders released its "World Press Freedom Index." The United States dropped 13 spots from the prior year in that index.
The United States is now ranked 46 for freedom of the press, slightly worse than Romania at number 45 and slightly better than Haiti at number 47.
AP notes that it has pending FOIA requests that range from months old to over a year old related to the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," and the IRS scandal involving the targeting of conservative, pro-life and evangelical groups.
AP also points out that the U.S. State Department told one editor incorrect information in response to an FOIA request. When John Cook, departing editor at Gawker and the incoming editor at Intercept, asked for the records of an email exchange between reporter Michael Hastings and Hillary Clinton spokesperson Philippe Reines, he was told there were no records, even though BuzzFeed already published part of the obscenity-laden exchange between the two men.
In noting the 13 place drop for the United States in the World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders mentioned the scandal involving the Department of Justice's seizure of AP phone records and attempts to require NYT reporter James Risen to testify about one of his sources, and the pursuit of "whistleblowers" Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.
"Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it. Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result," Reporters Without Borders wrote.
"This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks."