Transparency is not just television

Beth Noveck at the SunLight Foundation Blog: “In 2009, Larry Lessig published a headline-grabbing piece in the New Republic entitled “Against Transparency,” arguing that the “naked transparency movement” might inspire disgust in, rather than reform of, our political system. In their recent Brookings Institution paper, “Why Critics of Transparency Are Wrong,” Gary Bass, Danielle Brian and Norm Eisen rightly critique the latest generation of naysayers who contend that transparency has contributed to our political ills, and that efforts to reduce transparency will cause government to work better. The problem with suggesting that transparency is the root of extreme partisan gridlock, the absence of dealmaking, and the lowest rates of trust by the American people in Congress, however, is that there is no real transparency in that institution.
If there is any shortcoming in Bass, Brian and Eisen’s robust defense of transparency, it is that they should be even tougher in rapping these other writers across the knuckles, including for some critics’ unsophisticated equation of television cameras in the chamber with transparency.
Even in our media-savvy age, televising congressional deliberations (if you can call them that) – what we might call political transparency – surely contributes too little to policy transparency. It lays bare the spectacle but does not provide access to the kinds of information disclosures about the workings of Congress in a way that also affords people an opportunity to participate in changing those workings and that Bass, Brian and Eisen also support. Done right, transparency provides an empirical foundation for developing solutions together. If the Brits can have a 21st Century parliament initiative, we are long overdue for a 21st century Congress….”