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Denied! Event with White House leader closed to press

 Does closing a meeting to the press mean anything anymore?

Did it ever?

And when government officials do it, is it even legal?

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt spoke to an audience earlier this week at a breakfast hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council. Although it was not in any way a classified or secret event, the administration asked that it be closed to reporters, for some unfathomable reason. (NVTC confirmed that it was the administration's request, not the NVTC's idea, to close the meeting to media.)

It was a shocking display of hostility to the very idea of transparency, one of the Obama administration's watchwords, so that alone is ironic. But it's also a singularly ineffective way of preventing the message from getting out past that room, if that was the intent.

The press, as it always has, will get any important news from those who attended -- as we did in reporting Schmidt's comments about coming enforcement of Personal Identity Verification card use. All the press ban accomplishes is forcing reporters to rely on second-hand accounts rather than witnessing the presentation themselves. (Which adds opportunity for error and misconstrual that wouldn't exist if the even had just been open to coverage.)

But there's more to it than that. Everybody at the event who heard Schmidt speak has a mobile phone. Most have Twitter accounts. It's inconceivable that the White House actually believed that closing out the media would prevent the spread of anything important that he said. And a quick Twitter search using the hashtag #NVTC -- just one of several that apply -- brings up several  tweets relating parts of Schmidt's presentation.

We just don't get it. What did they accomplish with this ban, other than to contradict their own stated commitment to transparency?

Posted on Dec 16, 2010 at 12:18 PM


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