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New, Transparent WhiteHouse.gov Forgoes Press Briefing Transcripts?

8:10 AM, Jan 26, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Barack Obama's administration may be promising the "greatest ethical standard ever administered to an executive branch," and increased transparency over his predecessor, but it seems to be forgoing at least one transparency practice that was routine in the Bush White House- transcripts of the daily press briefing.

It's been four days since Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' first (and widely panned) appearance before the White House press corps, but no transcript, summary, or video of the event has shown up on WhiteHouse.gov. The delay could be forgiven in a less tech-savvy bunch, but given the Obama team's considerable online skill, the omission of the the transcript is clearly intentional.

In contrast, the Bush White House provided a transcript of every daily briefing, searchable and accessible in its own section on their web site. The archive, available via the Wayback Machine but not on the new WhiteHouse.gov, started Jan. 24, 2001. The Clinton White House also provided transcripts of the briefing, according to archives, at least as early as 1999.

The decision to withhold transcripts is not a departure from the Obama Team's online posture during the campaign, and signals that's exactly the posture they intend to take for the next four years. Team Obama got a lot of credit for being an active online presence, which indeed it was, but that presence was built for message control, not openness. (My.BarackObama, the campaign's social networking platform, is a different story, but it was cordoned off from the official campaign material, which was pretty tightly controlled.)

Of the 1,800 YouTube videos at Obama's channel, precious few include questions from town halls and other unscripted events. The channel is a vehicle for Obama's speeches and commercials, not questions or debate.

WhiteHouse.gov looks like it will have a similar philosophy. The "briefing room," which ironically has no information on White House briefings, offers Obama's "Weekly Video Address," photo slideshows, text of executive orders, and press releases on nominees, and a blog updated only with Obama statements and official proclamations. I suppose transcripts could eventually be going here, in the "pool report" section, which I'm reasonably sure didn't exist until this weekend or today, and is not listed as a section of the "briefing room" at the bottom of the page in the index. I wonder if it's a response to complaints about the lack of transcripts, which would explain why it has no content yet.

All old links to White House press briefings will take you only to the bland "briefing room," and do not redirect to archived versions of transcripts. This wasn't really the Obama administration's responsibility, but it's generally considered annoying in Internet circles, and likely impairs a bunch of old, earnest lefty blogger diatribes that used Scott McClellan as inspiration.

It's enough to make you long for the openness and transparency of the Bush administration.