Can you tell what we're trying to spell here? (Maybe just one more reason journalists shouldn't drink together.)
It could’ve been the long-awaited reunion, the high desert air, or simply the quality Oregon microbrew, but for reasons unexplained we decided to spell FOIA, YMCA-style while chatting about the craft a few weeks back. (A new dance rage sure to sweep the nation) …Or at the very least, a decent excuse for at blog post.
Anyone, journalist or otherwise, who’s ever tried to get documents from the government, particularly the federal government, knows that it’s an exercise in patience. If (and the operative word here is “if”) your request is ever answered, it typically comes back piecemeal— and with all the interesting parts marked out in black.
Freedom of Information requests have never been a sure bet, but they got markedly worse under the Bush Administration after former Attorney General John Ashcroft sent a memo to federal agencies instructing them to deny virtually any request on the grounds of homeland security. And deny they have.
States and cities can be just as bad about making information available— sometimes because of outdated laws, but often because of understaffing and lack of understanding.
Access to information, though often an uphill battle, is a hallmark of a healthy democracy and well worth fighting for. To that end, the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Washington Coalition for Open Government are hosting a Sunshine Summit in Seattle Friday and Saturday at the Marriott on the waterfront.
They’ve got a great lineup of local and national journalists, government-types and academics that will talk about everything from sports secrecy and stadium deals (hmmm…) to election transparency and towing the party line.
The good people planning the event say they’ll take last minute walk-ins and registrations on-site. There will also be a screening Friday of The U.S. vs. John Lennon a documentary (which played in these parts last fall), that chronicles the FBI’s secret campaign against the Beatles frontman, followed by a Q and A with writer and director John Scheinfeld.
Maybe you'll be inspired to do the FOIA dance too.