FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Muckrock's Michael Morisy and Shadowproof's Kevin Gosztola respond to Vox

FOIA News (2015-16)Kevin SchmidtComment

Michael Morisy: Making government officials’ emails open to scrutiny is key to accountability

By Michael Morisy, Nieman Lab, Sept. 7, 2016

If you read any accountability journalism, it’s amazing how often emails received through public records requests and the Freedom of Information Act provide a pivotal role. If anything, stories based on public records stories tend to be the antidote to the “hot take” culture that Yglesias worries is corrupting good government.

Plus, even government phone calls are often recorded and provide important accountability. One great example, via the Associated Press’ Ted Bridis: How a No Fly Zone over Ferguson — originally stated as a public safety measure — was actually created to keep the media away.

Making emails and other modern communication channels exempt from FOIA means that most of these stories would be impossible, or at least much weaker. Instead, reporters would have to rely on citing “according to sources,” which leaves their reporting vulnerable to he-said-she-said back and forth that inevitably dulls its impact.

The other half of Yglesias’ argument, that too much oversight impairs government work, also misses the mark. He’s absolutely right that government employees need the ability to brainstorm and speak candidly. This is what the B(5) exemption, phone calls, and in-person meetings let them do. But it’s equally important that government officials get used to working in public — aware that part of their job is being able and ready to share, explain, and occasionally defend their work.

Read more here.

The Derangement of Journalists Against Transparency

By Kevin Gosztiola, Shadowproof, Sept. 7, 2016

Vox’s Matt Yglesias recently outed himself as a Journalist Against Transparency or a jatter. He argued, very incorrectly, that emails and other electronic records produced by “conversational” communication tools should not be subject to FOIA.

The problem is jatters like Yglesias do not support the journalism being done around Hillary Clinton’s emails. He favors increasing restrictions on what government records can be released to journalists and the public because he identifies with a candidate, who has been dogged by the fact that she tried to keep her emails out of the purview of FOIA when she was the Secretary of State.

Read more here.