It would be tempting simply to dismiss the mad rush by the New York Times, the Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets to get their hands on those 24,000-plus emails that Sarah Palin wrote while she was governor of Alaska.
Clearly, there was a “gotcha” expectation among journalists poring over the Palin messages. They thought they would find damaging new revelations about the woman who, for good or ill, has become in less than four years one of the most controversial figures in American politics. That nothing of note has yet emerged tells us that something other than sound news judgment drives the reporting agendas in too many newsrooms.
Multiple lessons should be drawn from this episode. First, there is a lamentable confusion among conservatives who criticized the media for demanding the emails and inviting their readers to assist in going through them. This is called “crowdsourcing,” and it is a valuable new tool made possible by the Internet for increasing government transparency and accountability. Conservatives should embrace crowdsourcing and put it to good use or risk being left behind on the technology front.
Second, too many media outlets that went wild over the Palin emails have not devoted anywhere near as much passion, energy and resources to holding President Barack Obama accountable on the pledge he made on his first day in the Oval Office — that he would run the most transparent administration ever. The list of Obama transparency blockages is a long one, but it has received only sporadic coverage in most precincts of the mainstream media.
For example, the Obama administration has argued since 2009, despite multiple contrary judicial rulings, that White House visitor logs are Secret Service property and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, continues to doggedly pursue the logs in federal court, which has resulted in partial postings on the White House website. But as The Washington Examiner noted last month, many of the log entries that have been posted do not reflect all of the visitors or officials participating in particular meetings, two-thirds of the names on the released logs are of guided group tours rather than official meetings, and thousands of people known to have attended White House meetings are nowhere to be found in the logs.
Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton told a House committee recently that his organization has filed 48 lawsuits seeking to force Obama administration officials to comply with the FOIA. Fitton is not alone in this arena. Anne Weismann of the Center for Responsibility for Ethics in Washington, which normally focuses its ire on Republicans, said “the policies for disclosure are in place, but the applications of the policies do not exist.”
That sad fact would change if more journalists studied Obama’s transparency record as assiduously as they did Palin’s emails.