Obama’s Information Problem

| by Sarah Siskind
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There seems to be a recurrent information problem throughout Obama’s presidency. At least, a problem of asymmetry; there is far too much private information flowing in and far too little public information flowing out.

It started with the Fast and Furious scandal in June 2012. Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress over a botched gunrunning scheme. Obama exercised his executive privilege to maintain the secrecy of the documents Holder would not produce.

Then just before the election in September 2012, protesters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans. The amount of White House spin and inconsistency was enough to galvanize Congress to hold lengthy hearings. U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, was so unforthcoming with adequate information, she withdrew from her appointment as Secretary of State before the Senate could block her.

In March, Sen. Rand Paul disrupted the calm in Washington with a 13-hour filibuster to block John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director. When the White House would not comment on its drone strikes, Paul lectured about its unconstitutionality for more than half a day.

The information flow has been unilateral. Too little information leaks from the White House while too much private information flows in. In May, the IRS got in trouble for auditing specific conservative groups because of their stated political opinions. Such information should hold no bearing over the attention they receive from the IRS.

Later that month, the White House was once again under scrutiny for seizing phone records of the Associated Press, a violation of the institution’s constitutional right to report the news and protect its sources.

In the latest and most dramatic development, Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the egregious surveillance tactics of the NSA. These include seizing phone records from private companies like Google and Verizon. This has received the most attention, meeting class action lawsuits, hearings and petitions. In order to differentiate himself from the notorious nondisclosure of the Bush administration and escape his predecessor’s unpopularity, Obama must opt for greater transparency.

Sources: Heritage, Slate, CBS, The Atlantic, The New York Times, USA Today,