White House: Transparency? Are you kidding?

White House: Transparency? Are you kidding?

By: Byron York
Chief Political Correspondent
03/24/10 5:47 PM EDT

The Obama White House did not allow the press to cover the president’s signing of the executive order created to win Rep. Bart Stupak’s vote for Obamacare. At the daily briefing, reporters wanted to know why no press photographer or reporter was allowed in. Press secretary Robert Gibbs told them they should be happy with a picture from the White House photographer, Pete Souza — a photo produced and selected by the White House. It will be a “nice picture,” Gibbs assured reporters.

Reporters tried to appeal to the White House’s professed commitment to openness and transparency. Gibbs was having none of it. The White House wanted to limit coverage of the executive order, so in the spirit of openness and transparency it simply shut the press out. This is how Gibbs’ back-and-forth with reporters went:

“The president is signing an executive order on abortion that is a pretty big national issue,” a reporter asked. “Why would that be closed press, no pictures?”

“We’ll put out a picture from Pete [Souza],” Gibbs said.

“But what about a picture from the actual national media, not from — ” the reporter started to follow up.

“On, the picture from Pete will be for the actual event,” Gibbs answered.

“Right, but what about allowing us in, for openness and transparency?”

“We’ll have a nice picture from Pete that will demonstrate that type of transparency.”

“Not the same, Robert,” the reporter said. “Never has been.”

“I know you all disagree with that,” Gibbs answered. “I think Pete takes wonderful photos.”

Gibbs’ suggestion that the press corps thinks Souza is a bad photographer set off the reporters. That’s not what they were saying; the point was that the press was not allowed in.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” the reporter said. “Don’t twist this — it’s not an attack on Pete.”

“Well, I don’t know why you’d want to attack Pete, Chuck,” Gibbs said, “but I’m going to stand up here and defend Pete’s — ”

“It’s not transparent and it’s a vital issue.”

“And you will have a lovely picture from Pete.”

“You really think that’s all it’s worth, is a photograph, on an issue this important?”

“No, I think you’ll be able to see the President sign the executive order.”

“Not hear anything anybody has to say?”

“You’ll have a nice picture.”

And here it is: a nice picture, exactly what the White House wanted you to see, and nothing more.

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