Content vs. Message: 53 Journalism Groups Ask Obama to End Press Office Blockades

http://www.sej.org/publications/watchdog-tipsheet/53-journalism-groups-ask-obama-end-press-office-blockades

I thought that this article would be interesting to discuss because not only the structure, but also the content of the article is relevant to this course. The article focuses on how journalist groups are asking Obama for a more transparent administration, however, I think that the message is very different.

The impression that I thought the article was trying to leave me with was that the EPA is restrictive and will not admit it, Obama is not performing in accordance with his words and that our government should be more transparent than it is. None of those impressions were explicitly stated, so I am curious what your impressions were about this situation after reading the article and whether they differed from the actual words in the article. Adding to that, I think it would be interesting to discuss how a journalist can manipulate facts to present one side of an argument more or less strongly and the ethics of choosing to substantiate some claims more than others.

An interesting point in this article in terms of content is the discrepancy in the second paragraph where the author says that EPA employees tell reporters that they cannot talk to news media in certain situations and the EPA denies that restriction. What might be the risk of EPA employees talking to the news media? My first interview was with a researcher who was immediately uncomfortable with being recorded or published for fear of being quoted poorly, with unsubstantiated claims or even for not having her academic references included. Do you think the employees might choose not to talk and feel like they need an excuse? Do you think the EPA would have these media restrictions in place and choose not to say that that is their policy?

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2 Responses to “Content vs. Message: 53 Journalism Groups Ask Obama to End Press Office Blockades”

  1. This article is definitely intriguing. I never knew that there were such strict rules for government officials to speak with the media. It seems odd that no written documentation could be reported by the EPA when requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I agree with you, Irene, that the message of the article is that the EPA is restrictive and will not admit this type of media access. While it may be easy to assume that Obama is not acting according to this words, I’m sure there are more barriers than him alone. It is interesting, though, that he claimed he would be the most “open and transparent in history,” but that is not necessarily the case. One question I have is: have previous presidents allowed reporters to openly access government officials for interviews, or if this is a completely new concept that Obama just happens to be getting slack for?

    With the idea in mind that journalist’s can pretty easily tamper with claims from government officials, I can see why the EPA would be hesitant to allow interactions between media and government without permission and a public information officer present. As a human being, it is difficult to not let your personal beliefs and values intermix with your writing performance. This is especially difficult for journalists because they tend to write persuasively, even in a news story, to provide a unique angle.

    At the same time, it is the duty of journalists to accurately report on issues to the public. It is unfair to block certain reporters, and I agree with the article that the public is not getting all necessary information due to these tight restraints. Maybe a way to solve this would be to provide all professional journalists with in-depth training and knowledge to write in a way that informs the public precisely, rather than having the focus be on entertainment and what will get the most readership. If interviewees knew they all journalists were provided with the proper skills to write a news article, and if reporters were held accountable for tampering information provided to them, they may be less hesitant to speak to the press.

  2. I agree that this is an extremely relevant article for both this class. The accessibility to government employees and spokespeople are crucial to the integrity of news reporting, transparency, and information disclosure. The risk of EPA employees talking to news media might be that the EPA loses the ability to control when and how information gets released to the public. Additionally, given the increased opportunity to release information creates opportunities to misreport or misrepresent existing data or information. Despite the increased risk of misreporting data, I still feel that for the sake of transparency, the press should still have more access to EPA employees and information. On the other side of this argument, I believe that there is a legitimate argument that EPA might be acting in a way that it feels it is protecting its employees from being overly questioned by members of the press. Particularly for individuals who are not comfortable being interviewed, this policy might be seen as a protective measure for employees. I think it may be in the best interest for the EPA to deny that they have these existing policies in place due to the fact that these policies make the EPA appear less transparent than it maybe should be.

    I think it is also important to highlight the relevance of this article to much of our previous class discussion, which had to do with how the EPA and other governmental regulatory agencies handled disclosing information about the water quality issues in Flint. The speaker from Virginia Tech talked about how the EPA handled disclosing information about the possible led levels in the Flint water. This article is very interesting as I feel that it speaks to the idea that the EPA may take on policies to protect itself at the expense of transparency and accountability as was seen in the Flint water crisis.

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