Answering FOI for Palin emails may take longer than she was governor (An apology, too!)

Bill Dedman of MSNBC.com says “you can do the math.” If you do, odds are you won't be surprised if Alaska officials require more time to fulfill requests for copies of former Gov. Sarah Palin's official emails than she was actually in office.

Here's how Dedman puts it:

“On Monday evening, Sarah Palin's former staff in the Alaska governor's office requested another delay in making public 25,000 e-mails exchanged by Palin, her husband and her senior aides.

“The governor's office is asking the state's attorney general to approve a delay of five more months, until May 30, 2011.

“At that point, the request filed by msnbc.com and other news organizations will have been pending for 986 days. Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska for 966 days.”

 Dedman points to multiple causes of the extraordinary delays that have characterized the response to a request originally filed in 2008 shortly after Palin became Sen. John McCain's vice-presidential running mate on the Republican ticket:

* The state said it could not produce an electronic copy of the e-mails, despite the state law requiring just that.

* An offer from a legal services company, to convert all the e-mails to a secure electronic archive at no cost, was ignored.

* The state law department acquired software to work with electronic e-mails, but couldn't figure out how to get the e-mails into it.

* The e-mails were printed out by state interns.

* State legal staff continue to go over the e-mails, deciding what to withhold under exemptions in the state public records act.

* Those decisions will then be reviewed by the governor's office. The governor, Sean Parnell, was Sarah Palin's running mate in 2006.

* The printouts, with some material blacked out, will be photocopied and shipped to the news organizations.

* The news organizations will scan in the records, restoring them to electronic form in a searchable database online.

At that point, Dedman, notes, “the residents of Alaska will be able to read their own public records.”

For more from Dedman on this issue, go here.

Regular readers of this space will perhaps note that last week I called attention to the FOIA for Palin's official emails with this post.

While my comments there were mainly addressed to David Corn of The Nation, one among those I described as a group of “liberal and left-wing journalists” who requested Palin's official emails, Dedman took great umbrage at my stereotypical characterization of all the requestors.

In an email this morning, Dedman angrily pointed out that labelling him in that manner would be no more justified than “would an attempt to label me a conservative or right-wing journalist.”

Dedman makes a valid point – I should not have broad-brushed the requestors, so I hereby tender my apology to him and any other mainstream media journalists among those requesting Palin's official email who believe themselves to have been mis-represented by being labelled a liberal or left-winger.

On the positive side, Dedman agreed with my ultimate point, which was that Palin ought not be the only public figure who is the recipient of requests from journalists for copies of all of their official email.

My view is that it ought to be a matter of routine that journalists ask for all official correspondence, not just that in email.

Beltway ConfidentialFOIAPoliticsUS

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