CJR Probes Press Office Minders, Permissions at Fed Science Agencies

September 21, 2011

"Bush was worse" is hardly the foundation of an effective public affairs campaign. The Obama administration's PR problems in communicating science have lately aroused a storm of bad publicity.

The latest: a joint investigation by Columbia Journalism Review and ProPublica into the Obama administration's science openness policies that offered only faint praise for Obama's accomplishments. Nearly 400 of roughly 2,100 invited journalists responded to their survey, and they gave both the Bush and Obama administrations poor marks for openness at science agencies.

"A survey of science, health, and environmental journalists, conducted by CJR and ProPublica, suggests that while his record so far is more mixed than the anecdotal evidence from journalists indicates, President Obama has clearly not lived up to his promise on transparency and access. As has been the case on many fronts with Obama, the expectations among journalists that things were going to improve were so high, a failure to live up those expectations was almost inevitable," the CJR article by science editor Curtis Brainard said.

SEJ Freedom of Information Task Force Chairman Ken Ward Jr. told Brainard that top press spokespeople at EPA and other agencies tend to be drawn from presidential campaigns. "They want to run government agencies like they’re political campaigns and they don’t seem to understand that there ought to be a difference," Ward told CJR. "All the information that EPA has about its inspections, its enforcement, its science — that belongs to the public."

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