, Obama’s chief spokesman and a seasoned press operative, knows how to maneuver around prickly issues. So when the most popular question on
asked whether Obama would appoint a special prosecutor to “independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping”–besting 76,000 other questions submitted in recent weeks by citizens–Gibbs simply ignored it. Instead, he recorded a YouTube video tackling other popular questions. Then Obama aides posted a note on January 9 inaccurately categorizing the special prosecutor question as “previously answered.” That gambit was the first obvious failure at Change.gov, Obama’s admirable attempt to create a portal for more open and transparent government.
It is striking that Obama’s aides, who helped win the election by harnessing new media, believed they could just spin away from their online interlocutors. Instead, the move backfired immediately.
, the activist who submitted the question, campaigned for it; and progressive websites, including thenation.com, blasted the dodge. Within a day, MSNBC’s
picked up the story. A day later, Obama was compelled to answer the question in an interview with ABC’s
, who quoted it and pressed Obama with two follow-ups. Obama’s answer, which prioritized moving “forward” but did not rule out a special prosecutor, made the front page of the January 12
New York Times
By blatantly ducking a tough question, Gibbs set off a reaction that forced Obama to answer it. With transparent government and vigilant reporting, important questions can actually trickle up. ARI MELBER
SIGNALS OF CHANGE:
noted the reaction to
‘s technology and innovation plan in late 2007, the former
Federal Communications Commission
staffer used a word that should be at the heart of every discussion about media policy: “democracy.” “The response to the plan has been great,” he blogged. “One independent comment that stands out: ‘If even half of the proposals outlined here were to be implemented, it would fundamentally change the nature of our democracy for the better.’ That’s why Barack Obama is running for President–fundamentally changing the country and the world for the better.”
Sure, that reads like the raving of an Obama enthusiast. And Genachowski, one of Obama’s subeditors at the
Harvard Law Review
, is close to the president-elect. But it is a closeness with salutary consequences; he is set to serve as the next FCC chair. Having someone in that seat who recognizes that debates about bandwidth and bytes define not just media systems but democratic discourse is a very good thing.
How good remains to be seen; industry pressures on the FCC are intense. But Genachowski has impressed key media activists. “It is clear that he understands the importance of open networks and a regulatory environment that promotes innovation and competition to a robust democracy and a healthy economy,” says
. “I believe that in his new role, Julius will work to ensure that the FCC meets its legal obligation to protect the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ and will develop a principled, strategic policy agenda that promotes openness, free speech, competition, innovation, access, economic growth and consumer welfare.” If Sohn is right, Genachowski can change the nature of our democracy for the better. JOHN NICHOLS