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April 11, 2009

How I Miss The Transparency And Openness Of The Bush White House

By: John Caruso

When Bush was president, you could go to and easily find any word he'd uttered in a public context.  The items of interests were organized into two main sections—Current News and Press Briefings—both of which were indexed for easy perusal, and updated practically to the minute.  And the same goes for Clinton's version of, which didn't quite reach the heights of the Bush administration's version but was still straightforward to navigate.  In both cases, you could wade into that vile cesspool, quickly find what you needed, and be out of there in the minimum amount of time, leaving plenty of time to hose yourself down with disinfectant.

But with Obama, those days of easy access are over.  There are now multiple seemingly-overlapping potential locations under the Briefing Room for Obama's utterances.  Is that speech you're looking for in Speeches?  Official Statements?  Press Briefings?  Press Releases?  Presidential Actions?  Your Weekly Address?  Or is it an entry in the vomit-inducingly named "Blog"?  Good question.  You may naively think that a speech would be included under "Speeches", but if you check out that section you'll be surprised to discover that the last time Obama delivered a speech was February 27th.

And you may never find it.  In my experience thus far, the stuff I'm looking for often falls under none of these categories; I can spend minutes going through each section with a fine-tooth comb and still never manage to track it down.  For instance, when I was searching last week for Obama's March 30th auto industry speech I tried each of the sections in turn (and multiple times) but couldn't locate it anywhere.  I eventually hunted it down by grabbing a key phrase from the New York Times article about it and then doing a Google search using that phrase plus a "" qualifier.  In looking now I see just a link to it from an article on the blog (which wasn't there when I was originally searching)—and nothing else.  So to find the text of Obama's last major speech on the auto industry at this point, you have to grovel through the entire White House "blog" page by page looking for the relevant link.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, the cherry on top of my list of petty grievances is the fact that the new won't let you use Alt-left arrow in either Firefox or IE; if you want to go back to the last page you have to use the mouse.  God, I feel so dirty.

I'd hoped this was all just a result of settling in with a new IT group, but sadly, it appears that this is the we're going to be saddled with for the next four (or eight) years.  Will our trials never cease?

GEEK RANT: There were endless valid reasons to criticize the Bush administration when it comes to secrecy, but one of the silliest I ever saw was the claim that Bush was blocking search engines from seeing over 2000 pages on, on topics like Iraq, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc, always with some nefarious intent imputed by the Democrat-voting geek in question.  This was a reference to the robots.txt file, which tells search engines which pages on the site should not be indexed—and although it's true that the Bush robots.txt file was thousands of lines long, almost every single one of the entries was intended to prevent duplicate indexing of text-only or search versions of pages which were already indexed.  So the "Bush is blocking Google" meme was a red herring.

Nonetheless, there are people claiming the Obama administration's much-shorter robots.txt file "points to a hopeful, open future."

INDEPENDENT VERIFICATION: The American Presidency Project quantifies my beef:

Continuing Inconsistency in White House "Transparency."

By our count, Obama has given at least 10 media interviews for which transcripts have not been released by the White House or included in the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (DCPD).  In addition, the American Presidency Project continues to detect inconsistencies in the record published by the National Archives (NARA) in the DCPD.

I'm sure all of this is just shoddy management.  Nonetheless, I think it's telling to compare how much attention the Obama administration pays to pandering to its hipster constituency (the President has his own blog!) vs. the effort they put into boringly crucial work like keeping their transcripts current.  The Obamaites view primarily as a marketing site for the President (much more than even Clinton and Bush did), and giving us accurate and complete information is a much lower priority.

— John Caruso

Posted at April 11, 2009 09:33 PM

yeah, i had the same problem trying to find stuff at obama's i think it's just utter cluelessness on the part of the person who designed it.

i'm surprised there hasn't been more complaint about it.

Posted by: karen marie at April 12, 2009 11:02 AM

That's why we need more Obama-bots.

Posted by: abb1 at April 12, 2009 01:36 PM

I pointed that problem out a few days ago:

Incompetence or willful disguise ?

Posted by: b at April 12, 2009 03:38 PM

I also made this complaint; the press briefings weren't as accessible when I made it. At least now they're linked off the main Press page. I'll also chalk this up to incompetence.

Posted by: saurabh at April 12, 2009 06:19 PM

Try this:
It stays pretty current.

Posted by: brij at April 12, 2009 06:45 PM

Try this:
It stays pretty current.

Posted by: brij at April 12, 2009 06:45 PM

I don't think it would have occurred to me to use the White House indexing rather than Google, any more than I would expect a certain large university to help me find any given bit of information on their website.

Posted by: hf at April 12, 2009 11:24 PM

brij, thanks very much for the pointer; I've updated the posting with some useful information I found there.

b: Incompetence or willful disguise?

I don't think it's the latter, but (as I mentioned in the update to the posting) I think it's more about priorities than competence. Their main purpose is to pimp brand Obama, not to keep their site up-to-date.

Posted by: John Caruso at April 13, 2009 02:07 AM

Please, can you edit your comments. All of this could have been redacted to maybe a sentence. The Obama website needs improvement. Jeepers, at least you're not as obviously a dumb cunt as Rachel Corrie, Bernie C or JS.

Posted by: Mark Nuckols at April 13, 2009 07:51 AM

Mark, are you that cannibal guy from the Daily Show?

Posted by: abb1 at April 13, 2009 08:32 AM

yes, that bit of levity was a comic break from my usual routine of breathtakingly brilliant legal and economic analyses. It amused me at the time how many American dumbfucks I have known didn't get that it was all tongue-in-cheek.

Posted by: Mark Nuckols at April 13, 2009 09:15 AM

Tongue-in-cheek, huh; no pun intended, I'm sure.
Well, I must admit, I sense a clear streak of misanthropy there, in your comments. Maybe not quite of cannibalistic proportions, but it's certainly there.

Posted by: abb1 at April 13, 2009 01:24 PM

abb1, please don't feed the fucking worthless troll.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at April 13, 2009 05:36 PM

Hey, take it easy. I don't often get a chance to talk to a cannibal.

Posted by: abb1 at April 14, 2009 04:21 AM

My anger isn't directed at you.

Also, you've had the opportunity since back when he was "xyz."

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at April 14, 2009 02:00 PM

Ah, xyz, the powerful economist holding in his hands the fate of nations. I didn't know that he was also a cannibal. This explains so much.

Posted by: abb1 at April 14, 2009 05:34 PM