WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite campaign promises to “reinvent government,” the Clinton Administration has been slow to make real changes in government information policy, according to a Reporters Committee report.
To mark Freedom of Information Day, The Reporters Committee released its first annual summary and analysis of “The Clinton Administration and The News Media” in mid- March.
The report lists 151 actions taken since 1992 that restrict free speech and limit access to government information by the public and the press.
Some of the items in the report include:
- ATF officials attempt to mislead the press about the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, keeping reporters two miles away from the site during the 51-day standoff. The Justice Department subsequently adopts guidelines which prohibit advance notice to the media about similar operations and encourage agents to ask reporters to leave the scene.
- The FBI continues to deny former Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson access to files on Islamic Jihad members who held him hostage, on the grounds that it could invade his captors’ privacy.
- The State Department directs security guards at the National Gallery of Art to keep journalists in a cordoned-off area during an unofficial visit by Princess Diana, although members of the public are permitted to follow and photograph her in the museum.
- The FBI asks the Oregonian in Portland to hold off on publishing its first story linking figure skater Tonya Harding to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan, but fails to explain how publicity could harm the investigation.
- Attorney General Janet Reno tells Congress that proposed bills to ban violence on television are constitutional, even though the Supreme Court has never directly addressed the issue. She warns the industry that if it does not voluntarily reduce violence, the White House and Congress will take action to do so.
- The administration refuses to open meetings of the National Health Care Task Force and its working groups to the public, and keeps thousands of documents secret until ordered to release them by a federal judge.
- The White House bars reporters from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center during President Clinton’s visit with American soldiers wounded in Somalia. The news media are also barred from attending a memorial service for soldiers killed in Somalia held at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“Despite promising initiatives to streamline responses to FOI Act requests and to revise the national security classification scheme, the Clinton administration is nevertheless continuing secrecy and censorship initiatives begun by former Presidents Bush and Reagan,” said Jane E. Kirtley, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee.
“An entrenched bureaucracy steeped in 12 years of secrecy will not change overnight,” she acknowledged. “But it is disheartening that the Clinton administration would also affirmatively embrace restrictive policies by appealing a federal court order stopping Bush staffers from erasing White House and National Security Council e-mail, continuing the ban on travel to Cuba, and by supporting ‘decency’ restrictions on arts grants.”
The 27-page indexed report lists 151 actions in reverse-chronological order, which are also grouped according to seven categories including “Disinformation,” “Policing Thought,” “Secret Government” and “Stop the Press.”
Members of the news media may obtain one copy of “The Clinton Administration and The News Media” free of charge from the Reporters Committee. Additional copies are $5 each.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.