Last week following an initiative by the Boston Globe some 350 news organizations’ editorial boards published their views on the continual harassment they have encountered from our present administration.
Our administration has called the press the “enemy of the people,” “very dangerous,” “sick,” and has labeled their reporting as “fake news.”
As the Better Government Association (BGA) has pointed out, “nobody goes into journalism to make friends. When we expose, catch or correct the people in power, we don’t expect them to like it, we expect them to strike back.” And media has been the brunt of attacks from the government since its inception.
The Boston Globe editorial board wrote, ”the principal of a free press has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.” In fact so much so that “29% of Americans overall agree with President Trump that the news media is the enemy of the people … 26% of Americans say that the president should be able to close news outlets for bad behavior.”
The Globe went on to say that “the greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful… to label the press ‘the enemy of the people’ is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic impact we have shared for more than two centuries.”
The press’s job is to report the truth as they see it and serve as a watchdog which holds government officials accountable. This was true in 1789 and holds even truer today. A vibrant and free press is critical to the sustaining of law, to rectify injustices and hold elected officials accountable.
[bctt tweet=”The #press’s job is to report the truth as they see it and serve as a #watchdog which holds #government officials #accountable.” username=”RichardMBowen”]
Does it always do the best job? No. However, the continued attacks on freedom of the press and the public’s right to know are being eroded contributing to the press not being able to do a thorough job. We are headed down a slippery slope and nowhere is this more evident than in the withholding of information guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
[bctt tweet=”The continued attacks on freedom of the press and the public’s right to know are being eroded contributing to the #press not being able to do a thorough job. #FOIA” username=”RichardMBowen”]
A recent AP news report headlined that the US sets a new record for censoring by withholding government files. The censorship specifically referred to FOIA, a tool that allows citizens and journalists to access records from the government and may well be part of the attack against freedom of speech and the press.
People who asked for records under the Freedom of Information Act received censored files or nothing in 78 percent of 823,222 requests, a record over the past decade. In a little over half of these cases, the government provided no records, saying it could find no information related to the requests.
In other cases, the times the government said it would be illegal under FOIA or other U.S. laws to release requested information nearly doubled to 63,749. A disturbing trend continued: in more than one-in-three cases, the government reversed itself when challenged and acknowledged that it had improperly tried to withhold pages of requested documents.
The federal government also spent $40.6 million last year in legal fees defending its decisions to withhold federal files, also a record.
Interesting, spending taxpayer money to prevent the taxpayer from what they have a right to know!
[bctt tweet=”Interesting, spending #taxpayer money to prevent the taxpayer from what they have a right to know! #FOIA #government” username=”RichardMBowen”]
As I wrote about some time ago, FOIA is a critical element to the freedom of the press and journalists accessing information. It is a law that gives citizens (including press) the right to access information from the federal government and is often described as a law that helps keep citizens in the know about what the federal government is up to. In fact, many investigations would not be possible without FOIA.
The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA as it is commonly known, became the law of the land in 1966 in order to make it easier for the American people to get access to documents, notes and other relevant information about how the federal government wields its considerable power.
The premise of FOIA is that people have the right to know about the affairs of government without government determination on what they think expedient for citizens to know or not know. It allows for oversight over the activities of government and serves to reduce government corruption.
The Freedom of Information Act empowers citizen control over their government, but far too often the government has been shown to be arbitrary in withholding information when responding to FOIA requests.
I can personally attest to this. William D. Cohan, a former investment banker and author of Why Wall Street Matters , filed FOIA requests for my sworn SEC testimony, which was given to the SEC three months before the bank bailouts. The SEC refused to release any of the 1,000+ pages evidencing fraud I had voluntarily provided to them, saying they were “confidential” and “trade secrets,” even though some of the pages showing the fraudulent representations and other documents which were given to the purchasers of mortgage-backed securities were printed off the internet from public securities registrations.
The Better Government Association (BGA) says, “it’s hard to say whether FOIA bureaucrats across the country are emboldened by the anti-press rhetoric from Washington. But just as journalists last year filed more than 100 FOIA lawsuits nationwide, double the rate in 2016, we are filing more lawsuits, too, in the face of FOIA resistance by officials.”
The Guardian tells us that freedom of the press was certainly not invented in the United States, but there are few nations in which the importance of an independent press has been so closely woven into its long history. This great American tradition of civic respect for truth and truth-telling is now under threat from a consistent policy of undermining, delegitimizing and even endangering the press’s work.
When the Associated Press (AP) analysis of new data declares “The federal government censored, withheld or said it couldn’t find records sought by citizens, journalists and others more often last year than at any point in the past decade, then we need to pay attention.
[bctt tweet=”To deny citizens access is a travesty as I can well relate to given my own experience with the system. #FOIA #citi ” username=”RichardMBowen”]
FOIA was written to ensure this transparency. While it’s costly and cumbersome, it has repeatedly exposed executive branch abuses. To deny citizens access is a travesty as I can well relate to given my own experience with the system.
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation must begin by subduing the freedom of speech.”
–Cato, Essay 15, 4 February 1720; New-York Weekly Journal, 18 February 1733