Question: Does the releasing of the White House Visit Logs promote transparency as the Obama administration claims that it does? Are there instances when this information has furthered investigative journalism? Are there instances when it hasn’t, but it could have? Can this information be exploited? Is there any level of accountability in the whole process? Is it true that the vast majority of names on the list are simply tourists? Does it simply lead to more speculation about why these meetings take place?
Original Assumption: My original assumption is that the publishing of these lists is a good thing. While it may not go far enough in disclosing information, my general feeling is that this is a good first step towards providing information that journalists can use as a source in their reporting. The list is made available online and is searchable (which is a lot more than you can say for other various pieces of information that are available to the public), and does go into providing a certain amount of data. I do have to say I am somewhat skeptical to what extent these lists are censored. I find this frustrating because there is really no way to know what information is left out, it seems anything can be classified as “confidential.” It also clearly doesn’t solve the problem of knowing about what meetings take place not at the White House (is there any way to figure out percentage wise the number of meetings that may be). There also seem to be several problems with the lists such as duplicate names, as well as the fact that it’s released 90 days after. I don’t see any reason that they could not be released sooner, 90 days seem a bit extreme.
Related Norms: The whole issue of transparency and the Obama administration is discussed a lot. People often hail the website data.gov as a huge shift in how information is conveyed both internally and externally to the public. And of course others criticize it and say it doesn’t go far enough. (See this article for a discussion of the UK Open Data site and why it is superior to data.gov). But it begs the question as to why we as a culture are seeing an increase shift in demanding transparency – whether its in disclosing earmarks in legislation, campaign contributions, information on how laws are being made, or just generally about where information comes from. It definitely seems as though the release of the White House Visitor Logs are along the same vein of transparency movement by the President. But it begs the question, should these lists even be released to begin with? If it proves that they aren’t providing valuable data, what is the point?
A few other points to consider…
Having played around with visitor logs over the past few days, there are several important characteristics that I noted:
- It’s user friendly, specifically it’s easy to navigate, rarely crashes, and allows users to search for as specific or as general information as you want
- You can download the data into various formats (Excel), this allows for the data to be used in mashups and other various forms by innovative and motivated users
- It allows you to link lists and results searched for automatically to Twitter, Google, Reddit, Delicious, MySpace, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.
- How has the mainstream media covered this issue? Do they take a specific angle? Is it celebratory or more critical?
- Are there examples of where this data has been useful in journalism and news stories.
- Are there instances where the data may not have been used, but could have been?
I will also do a bit more digging as well trying to answer the following questions:
- How many names appear on this list? How many do not appear? (eg how many actual visitors vs. reported visitors)
- What kinds of visitors besides tourists appear on these lists?
Any advice or thoughts would be appreciated! Thanks!