[T]he White House organized a conference call with two senior administration officials to preview an announcement by President Barack Obama about an important China trade issue but told reporters that no one could be quoted by name. The officials were U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, Michael Froman.
The Associated Press's Richard Lardner has attracted the admiring eyes of Beltway reporters Tuesday by flouting the Obama administration's demand for anonymity, even as another A.P. article seemingly granted the administration's request. Lardner's story was about the many ways the Obama Administration isn't living up to its stated goal of being more forthcoming, pegged to Sunshine Week, included this stick-it-to-the-Man moment:
Announcing that two officials demanded anonymity and then matter-of-factly naming them in the next sentence? You're bound to attract the loving attention of reporters frustrated by daily requests to speak off-the-record, on background, or in rare instances "double super secret background."
Outing the anonymous administration officials who brief reporters ahead of major announcements -- a common procedure in all recent White Houses -- wasn't the only bit of secret-keeping that Lardner pointed to in his story. He also pointed out that the Justice Department's Melanie Ann Pustay spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill advocating stricter secrecy rules for "material about cybersecurity, critical U.S. computer networks, industrial plants, pipelines and more." (As Lardner notes, this step would "keep secret a whole new category of information even under the Freedom of Information Act.") His third example was a less serious refusal by the Administration to keep government information out of public view:
As first reported by Bloomberg, the White House declined to identify the name and vintage of wines it served during the June 2011 state dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and it’s unclear whether it will reveal the wine list for this week’s state dinner when British Prime Minister David Cameron visits. It previously has disclosed such information for previous dinners. The commercial prices for some bottles have exceeded $300.
But it was the unmasking of Kirk and Froman that got several reporters triumphantly tweeting and retweeting Lardner's story. It's worth noting though that the Associated Press seems to have granted those sources the anonymity the White House requested in a news brief that moved earlier on Tuesday. In Julie Pace's preview of Obama's announcement of the U.S. complaint about China's export restrictions of rare earth materials, she cited "officials, who requested anonymity in order to speak ahead of the president." Those are almost certainly the same two who Lardner describes.
Of course, the Associated Press is not exactly a model of transparency itself. Asked about Lardner's story by Politico's Dylan Byers, A.P. spokesperson Paul Colford said he "won't discuss AP's editorial deliberations."