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How Transparent Is This White House?

If it seems that news reporters are relying more and more on unnamed government sources in their story-telling, it’s because we are.

Much of that is our own fault. In the ever-quickening race to scoop others, the information or the quote often trumps the insistence on identifying its source. In other words, voices in the White House and Congress are often allowed to remain anonymous because reporters decreasingly push them to go on the record. But there also seem to be more and more instances of government officials demanding anonymity as a blanket policy, even in cases when the information being relayed isn’t at all sensitive or controversial.

Yesterday’s press call on the EPA’s new mountaintop mining guidelines offers an illustrative case.

Featured in that conversation was EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who spoke 100 percent on the record. But reporters were also told at the outset that other agency experts were also on hand, and that they were to be cited only as “senior EPA officials.”

“Your participation in this call means that you’ve agreed to these terms,” an EPA spokeswoman said.

But those terms didn’t sit so well with Ken Ward Jr., the long-time coal industry reporter at The Charleston Gazette, who asked pointedly, “Why won’t you allow your staff to also speak on the record?”

The response from EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy won’t do much to excite those who thought the Obama administration would usher in a new era of White House transparency after eight years of reticence and veiled sourcing under the Bush administration.

“We have very little precious time with the administrator today,” Andy said, “and we’re going to continue having her answer questions about mountaintop mining, on the record.”

Which, of course, acted only to reintroduce the question.

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