From the White House, silence is not golden

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As investigative journalists, we’re a little, um, addicted to documents. We understand perfectly well that politicians aren’t thrilled about people like us getting their hands on records showing what they were actually saying and thinking. It tends to lead to coverage like this. But PaperTrail hopes that the new White House team won’t buy into recent chatter that documenting deliberations would stifle debate.

In an article discussing the White House’s newly souped-up Situation Room, The New York Times wrote that “several veterans of the White House have noted in conversations over the past two years that the secure video does not lend itself to open, vigorous debate. Instead, it can squelch it. . . There may be recordings for posterity, or presidential libraries.”

Similar concerns dotted articles in November about Obama giving up his BlackBerry. Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told the AP that the president-elect “will have to think very hard about whether he wants to make his own words that subject to open records by having his own e-mail and his own BlackBerry.”

Sure, those tape recordings got President Nixon in a heap o’ trouble, but wasn’t that because he was engaging in inappropriate and illegal activity? What are White House staffers willing to float into the undocumented ether that they wouldn’t say on tape? We offer a plea on behalf of future investigators and historians to Obama’s White House: Record everything you can! Advisers might choose their words more carefully, but if the open, vigorous debate excludes ideas that they wouldn’t want the public to know about down the line, hey, that might not be such a bad thing.

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