Battle Cry: It's Time for the News Media to Stand Up to the Assault on Freedom of Information. (from the Editor)

By Rieder, Rem | American Journalism Review, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Battle Cry: It's Time for the News Media to Stand Up to the Assault on Freedom of Information. (from the Editor)


Rieder, Rem, American Journalism Review


I've never been much of a black-and-white kind of guy.

Maybe it stems from watching too much film noir. Perhaps it's all those good-bad protagonists and tough broads with hearts of gold and murky-in-Albuquerque atmospheres that have left me with a great appreciation for nuance and shades of gray. (We'll talk about those wonderfully evil, Jane Greer-style femmes fatales some other time.)

Or maybe it simply stems from a misspent lifetime as a journalist who has seen too many "However, comma" paragraphs.

Whatever, I've never been too comfortable about absolutes.

Few things scare me more than people who know, absolutely know (with apologies to the rock group Fastball) The Way. True believers have been responsible for exponentially more carnage than the Charles Mansons of the world could ever imagine.

And don't get me started on reporters who settle on good guys and bad guys, to the point that they're perfectly content to throw balance and fairness out the window.

That said, there are some things that are so outrageous that they require not a campaign but a crusade, a call to the barricades.

American journalism is facing one of them now.

In a powerful piece that begins on page 20, AJR contributing writer Charles Layton paints a profoundly upsetting picture of freedom of information under fire.

Little by little, step by step, sources of information are being choked off--by the Justice Department, by the governor's office, by the local sheriff.

Freedom of information requests are ignored. Previously public records are sealed. Sunshine laws are eclipsed.

Since September 11, "national security" has often been invoked as the reason for withholding information, in many instances laughably.

Privacy concerns, spurred by the vast reach of the Internet, have led to well-intentioned but shortsighted laws to place records off-limits.

And sometimes, numerous First Amendment audits show, officials simply ignore their responsibilities out of mindless arrogance and contempt--because they can.

Make no mistake: The cumulative impact of this barrage has serious ramifications, and not just for journalists. As Tim Franklin, editor of the Orlando Sentinel, puts it, "We are confronted with a broad move toward secrecy and restricted public access that could reshape how Americans do business and monitor their government for decades. …

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