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Open & Shut

From the Winter 2003 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 48.

From the Winter 2003 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 48.

Disclosure of government information is particularly important today because government is becoming involved in more and more aspects of every citizen’s personal and business life, and so access to information about how government is exercising its trust becomes increasingly important.

— Rep. Donald Rumsfeld (R-Ill.), in a floor speech on June 20, 1966, advocating passage of the FOIA, of which he was a co-sponsor.

Recent events have brought us to an elemental crossroads where civil liberties are embattled against our concerns for national security. While clearly a commitment to constitutional principles must not be a suicide pact, the rational and measured exercise of jurisprudence must be zealously sustained even in time of war, including the war on terrorism.

— U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. (New York, Nov. 19, 2002) ruling that a law banning masks at public gatherings is unconstitutional

I refused to join the pool — administered, by the way, by the press. I shaved off all my hair, got a uniform, helmet, etc. and lived in the desert with Marine Corps units who saw the army administered pool system — like everything the army does — as a vast conspiracy against the Marine Corps. I don’t do pools or press buses. At that point I go home.

— Author and journalist Chris Hedges during online discussion on, Jan. 14 about his book “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”

They say “axis of evil,” but they’re thinking “access is evil.”

— Mark Thompson, National Security Correspondent, Time Magazine, speaking at a conference on covering the war on terror sponsored by the Center for National Security Law and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection for Free Expression.

We do not keep America safer by chilling federal officials from warning the public about threats to their health and safety. We do not ensure our nation’s security by refusing to tell the American people whether or not their federal agencies are doing their jobs or their government is spending their hard-earned tax dollars wisely. We do not encourage real two-way cooperation by giving companies protection from civil liability when they break the law. We do not respect the spirit of our democracy when we cloak in secrecy the workings of our government from the public we are elected to serve.

— Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) speaking on the Homeland Security Act of 2002

We need the media to keep challenging the government, because that friction makes us all stronger. But uninformed journalists can’t effectively question authority. For example, well-meaning but misguided government efforts to classify too much information could harm national security by slowing the delivery of research results beneficial to society. And unless the public is well-informed, it won’t know how to analyze the issues and know how to assess the information being provided by its leaders.

— Randy Atkins, senior media relations officer for the National Academy of Engineering in a Jan. 26 Washington Post column.

From a Defense Press Briefing

Q: There’s a press report today that says that the CIA has turned over to the Pentagon some nearly 100 examples or documents indicating varying degrees of cooperation and support from Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. First of all, is that true? And if it’s true, what does that say about Iraq’s support for al Qaeda?

Rumsfeld: This has been an interesting subject for the press. Everyone’s had a big time with it. And, the only time I’ve ever opined on the subject was when one day I said to the CIA, “Gee, folks, why don’t you give me an — I keep getting asked this question — why don’t you give me an unclassified piece of paper?” And I brought it down here and I read it. And for weeks afterward, I was accused of having a different opinion from the Central Intelligence Agency or for drawing connections, some sort of connection. And this was repeated in the Senate, and repeated in the House, and repeated in the press. And I really had a minimum of high regard for the way the whole thing was handled. So, I’ve decided that I’m not going to go asking for an unclassified piece of paper. I don’t need it. You need it. So, what I do is I read the classified. I know what’s going on. And I’m perfectly happy, and I don’t need to go through that again. […]

Rumsfeld: The — let me think how I can say this. Let’s start with the beginning. I don’t really like to talk about what other countries do or don’t do. I really believe that it is in our country’s interest to let them do that. Every country has different sensitivities. […]

Q: Then this whole right-to-know thing is rearing its ugly head.

Rumsfeld: Yeah. You don’t know that I was one of the authors of the Freedom of Information Act. Do you know that? Did you know that?

— Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Dec. 3, 2002