The Obama administration talks a lot about transparency. It’s a key element of the pitch behind the president’s stimulus bill. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said the president last week in a typical remark. “I know that restoring transparency is not only the surest way to achieve results but also to earn back that trust in government without which we cannot deliver the changes the American people sent us here to make.” […]
But when it comes to personnel appointments like Daschle’s, the administration has fallen short of its own standard. Daschle’s and Tim Geithner’s tax troubles were first reported in the press. William J. Lynn and Mark Patterson, exceptions to Obama’s new ethics guidelines regarding lobbyists, were also discovered by the press. Because the administration failed to come forward on its own with this information, it looks as if it’s trying to hide something and creates the distractions that predictably follow. […]
Telling us about Daschle’s problems before the press did would not have wiped them away. But if the White House had revealed them first, at least it would have reduced the feeling that it was trying to hide something. In addition to whatever credit they would have gotten for acting in good faith, early disclosure would also have allowed the administration to get the first crack at defining the debate on its own terms.
Instead, it tried the old Washington wiggle. Aides had the information, didn’t release it, and then just tried to manage the fallout. This ensured a new degree of skepticism not only about the Obama team’s vetting process but about its judgment and ability to live up to its ethics and transparency standards. This rolling day-by-day set of stories distracted from the administration’s own message—Hey, look at Tom Daschle when he didn’t have a chauffer!—and created a pressure that makes it harder to deal with each new problem. This pressure is also what caused Nancy Killefer to resign before she could even take the job as administration performance officer.
(via Jay Rosen)