Wise citizens are generally skeptical of things said by politicians because they invariably tell us only what makes them look good.
The country was thus blessed when Bill of Rights author James Madison, whose birthday was Tuesday, enshrined freedom of the press among the four core liberties protected by the First Amendment. Madison knew that only an independent press could get “the rest of the story” and help citizens make informed decisions.
So, while the Freedom of Information Act isn’t much celebrated outside America’s newsrooms, there can be no doubt of its singular importance.
President Barack Obama spoke often and strongly during his presidential campaign about the need for greater transparency and accountability in government. While this page has been tough on Obama on most other issues, we have vigorously applauded him when he’s made genuine progress on these fronts.
It being Sunshine Week, it’s no surprise that Norm Eisen, the president’s chief spokesman on these issues, posted on the White House blog a lengthy list of what he views as the administration’s transparency successes during the past year. You can read Eisen’s blog post at www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/03/15/sunshine-over-washington-dc.
While there have been successes, there also have been some outrageous abuses of the public’s right to know, perhaps most notably in the Justice Department’s refusal to disclose documents concerning the handling of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case. Two Panthers dressed in paramilitary clothes were videotaped maliciously blocking a Philadelphia polling place last November, making the criminal case against them open and shut.
Last May, somebody under Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the three most serious charges against the menacing duo.
Despite repeated inquiries by Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and Lamar Smith of Texas, along with The Washington Times, the DOJ has refused to disclose key documents about the case.
Then Tuesday, the Associated Press published the results of its in-depth study of how federal agencies have responded to Obama’s directive instructing them to comply with the FOIA more aggressively than was done under President George W. Bush.
Unfortunately, according to the AP analysis, agencies have instead responded by being even more restrictive, using the law’s vague “deliberative process” exemption at least 70,779 times in nine months in 2009, compared to 47,395 times during Bush’s last full year in office.
Eisen countered that there were “problems” with AP’s counting, which the news service denied.
But one thing is crystal clear this week: Much more sunshine is needed in government at all levels.