Government's FoI Policy 'Disappointing'; Reporters Committee Analysis Cites 96 Incidents of Clinton Administration's Attempts to Limit Information in the Past Year

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THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION's policy toward freedom of information and the press has been disappointing, and continues to be so, according to a new report from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP).

While it is true that the present administration inherited a bureaucracy steeped in 12 years of strict secrecy policy, after two years in office, little progress has been made, explained RCFP executive director Jane E. Kirtley.

At the beginning of his tenure, the president's promises for improving Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) procedures, and for issuing a new executive order relaxing rules for the classification of documents, "sounded really good, but it's not been the reality we've seen," Kirtley said.

"If I look upon this [study] as a report card, they're not doing as well as we would've expected," she added, grading the administration a C-/D+.

The Clinton administration has "not demonstrated that openness is a high priority," Kirtley said, noting that there seem to be feelings of "hostility and disdain" toward the press.

Last year's report, which covered the first 13 months of the Clinton presidency, found 151 actions "aimed at restricting access to government information and intruding on editorial freedom."

The 1995 summary, released in conjunction with Freedom of Information Day, includes the previous data and continues to this February, for a total of 247 actions.

The RCFP report lists actions in seven categories: Disinformation, Freedom of Information, Plumbing Leaks, Policing Thought, Prior Restraint, Secret Government and Stop the Press.

The following are condensed listings for the past year -- February 1994, when the last report ended, to February 1995, the end of the current summary -- as reported by the RCFP.

Earlier listings were compiled in last year's E&P article on page 12 in the March 26, 1994, issue.

Events are categorized by topic and listed in chronological order, although there is not necessarily an entry for every month in each category.

DISINFORMATION

February 1994: Secretary of Defense William Perry praised retiring Adm. Frank Kelso II -- calling him a man of "the highest integrity and honor" -- as part of a deal to get Kelso to resign and avoid a court of inquiry about a report from a Navy judge, who found Kelso lied when he said he witnessed no misconduct during the 1991 Tailhook convention.

White House officials were annoyed by remarks by former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann to the New York Times, in which he said that, because of politics and ideology, no one in the government dared to speak the truth about crime.

Although the CIA attempted to portray Russian spy Aldrich Ames as an incompetent drunk, the Wall Street Journal noted that Ames actually had worked with several important Soviet defectors.

In addition, the FBI later reported that Ames failed a 1991 lie detector test when asked if he were a spy, but the CIA rephrased the question to give him a second chance.

A Democratic National Committee ad created by Clinton media adviser Mandy Grunwald showed a video clip of Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell of South Carolina, saying of health care, "There's not a crisis." Actually, the Washington Post reported, his full quote was, "Number one, you shouldn't say there's not a crisis." Grunwald called the ad a "clean, clear hit."

March 1994: Until the Chicago Tribune made them public, federal health officials did little to pursue reports of falsified data and other discrepancies in federally funded breast cancer research, despite the fact that they brought to their attention in 1990, according to the New York Times.

April 1994: FBI officials planted a false story in the student newspaper at Emory University, saying there was strong evidence a missing student was alive and well, despite the fact that the bureau suspected foul play. An FBI spokesman later told the Associated Press that investigators hoped the story would "generate more positive information. …