The situation has been worsening since the Clinton administration (mostly with the FDA), and it’s heading in an Orwellian direction, which means unhealthy use of media-control techniques pioneered in totalitarian regimes (think Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union). So long as these government filters and barriers are introduced gradually and informally, rising generations of new journalists will not know better, and their acceptance will be inevitable.
Editor, fda Webview
I found Curtis Brainard’s article very useful. I, too, am disappointed that so many people believe “transparency” has been reduced under the Obama administration. But suggesting that formalized database-access programs and use of social media are somehow being used to cover for increased clampdown on access seems a bit farfetched.
Anytime you involve press officers in trying to manage access to sensitive information—and much of the information still being researched is sensitive and has significant public-health, industry, and environmental costs associated with it—you’ll generate a belief that somehow it is possible to control access to information. What is happening, though, is that younger researchers are using social media to discuss research information more openly and in ways that end-run traditional peer review or agency policy controls.
Just as it’s unrealistic to attempt to control all agency scientists’ communication with the press, it’s unrealistic for agencies to believe that research findings can be completely bottled up until some final publication is reviewed and approved. That’s just not how science works. If we overdramatize the back-and-forth jousting of agencies and journalists, we may ignore how much communication may already be taking place on a day-to-day basis.
So, yes, I believe that a journalist (or any citizen) should be able to pick up the phone and call anyone on the government payroll and expect a civil response about what the scientist is working on without Big Brother peering over his or her shoulder. At the same time, the scientist shouldn’t be pushed to release unverified, incomplete, or preliminary information that is still undergoing analysis or scientific review. I don’t call that censorship. I call that being conservative about methodology and reporting—especially if you know the political and industrial sharks are circling.
Dennis D. McDonald (www.ddmcd.com)
Curtis Brainard’s article about transparency in the Obama administration may leave readers with the impression that the Association of Health Care Journalists is getting nowhere in our struggle to open the doors at the Department of Health and Human Services.
On the contrary, we are encouraged by the response from Richard Sorian, who has been HHS assistant secretary for public affairs for the past year. It was Sorian who suggested the quarterly conversations with AHCJ leaders. At each one, he asks for details of our members’ experiences—positive and negative—with the media staff at the various HHS agencies. Sorian also volunteered to travel anywhere in the country to meet with local AHCJ chapters. Such efforts indicate that our complaints are being heard.
It’s true that I’m unsure whether anything has changed for reporters seeking information from the many HHS divisions. But that’s because change takes time and, in this case, is very hard to measure. It’s not because I have no hope.
Felice J. Freyer
Chair, Right to Know Committee
Association of Health Care Journalists
Where Are the Female Pundits?
I read with interest Paul Starobin’s story, “All the President’s Pundits” (CJR, September/October), but was struck by the fact that not a single woman was quoted. The only woman mentioned in the piece was Kathleen Parker, who was asked to join President Obama on Air Force One. While most of us aren’t able to travel in such company, there are many talented women writing about politics, in Washington and around the country. Are they not considered part of the nation’s punditry?
Editor, The Forward
New York, NY
Thank you, Chitrangada Choudhury, for writing about this emerging form of journalism (“Urgent Call,” CJR, September/October). I am involved with a community media organization called Gram Vaani, based in the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, which in Jharkhand in July launched a news-over-mobile-phone project similar to Swara, the project Choudhury writes about.