Despite Windows Closing on Public Information, Steady Work Continues

By Houston, Brant | Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Despite Windows Closing on Public Information, Steady Work Continues

Houston, Brant, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Despite new secrecy and security hurdles, the 4,000-plus members BRANT HOUSTON of this organization are showing they have no intention of retreating from aggressive investigative journalism.

In newsrooms here and abroad, our members are cranking out enterprising stories despite the closing of government Web pages, the secrecy of the military and federal prosecutors, and the ranting by politicians - and even some fellow journalists - that to hold public officials accountable is to be unpatriotic.

Since Sept. 11, IRE members have scrutinized airport security and airline safety, the poor performance of intelligence and relief agencies, the internal disputes of the military and politicians, the narrowing of civil liberties and the threats of bio-terrorism and how the government has handled those threats.

For example, if you go to the IRE Web site,, and look at stories based on FAA safety databases, you will see that numerous newsrooms across the country did public service stories on airport security. Among those probing airport security problems were newsrooms in Anchorage, Dallas, Seattle, Tulsa, Milwaukee, Atlanta, San Diego, Nashville, Asbury Park, Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte. In addition, Knight-Ridder ran a nationwide story about how airport security became, and stayed, so flawed and the role lobbyists have played in preventing changes.

The FAA has since closed access to the enforcement data, citing national security reasons. However, the database includes far more than airport security violations; it includes information on hazardous material violations, maintenance problems and many other issues. But rather than make a reasonable, thought-out decision, the FAA simply chose to shut down the whole database and deny the press and the public the right and opportunity to examine the agency's failure to correct violations.

However, the FAA action did not stop the Transportation Department's own inspector general from publicizing continued flaws at airports. Interestingly, the FAA hasn't responded that the inspector general is threatening national security.

Of course, the FAA is not the only agency closing down information intended to ensure public safety. Federal authorities have removed the National Dam Inventory from the Web, saying that it contains dangerous information.

On one count, the authorities are right. There is information throughout the database showing aging, infrequently inspected dams are upstream from communities that have no emergency action plans for evacuation if the dams collapse. News organizations across the country - NBC Dateline did a classic story - have used this database for several years to alert the public to the potential dangers. And some of these dams could collapse on a sunny day without a terrorist attack.

Information from the Office of Pipeline Safety (natural gas pipelines) also has been closed.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Despite Windows Closing on Public Information, Steady Work Continues


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?