Sunshine Week is always great; it’s a week of celebration of democracy’s unofficial fourth branch and the important role journalists serve.
At the heart of Sunshine Week’s purpose is public information. Public records may be my favorite thing in the world. There is a weird feeling of joy I get everytime I see an email from UNC’s public records office.
But this brings me to a much more serious and grave point: The White House and its disregard for the fourth democratic branch.
In short, Obama’s administration has chosen to exempt itself from FOIA requests, giving the public and, more importantly, journalists a much more limited access into the inner workings of the most powerful office in the world. (Sidenote: I’m an Obama fan, but even I cannot make sense of this decision).
Jonathan Jones, the director of the Sunshine Center in North Carolina, called the decision to announce this during Sunshine Week “a slap in the face,” while David Levine, a law professor at Elon, criticized the entire Obama operation, saying his operations have been some of the most secretive in the history of the presidency.
But all of this misses the biggest issue.
You see, the White House’s decision may not be all that detrimental when viewed in a vacuum. It sucks that incredible White House reporters now have to work even harder to get documents and information that many view as public record. And it is upsetting that Obama, who has touted increased transparency in speeches, OK-ed this horrendous PR move.
But the biggest issue is that, for better or worse, the White House sets a precedent for its successors and its understudies. What stops other government agencies from becoming more withdrawn and secretive now?
The leader of the free world has made a decision that makes even the biggest Obama supporters cringe. I can only imagine what it did for those who aren’t in his camp.