Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pentagon FOI logs show little media interest

When blogger Michael Petrelis made an FOIA request to the Pentagon for a list of all FOIA requests it received since 2000, he was hoping to find out whether former New York Times reporter Judith Miller or other Times' reporters had sought Pentagon records. He found no requests from Miller, but the more surprising result was the overall dearth of FOIA requests from the media. Petrelis made his findings available to The Raw Story, which published them as Freedom of Information logs shed light on media's military curiosity. The article includes a partial list of the results, with Raw Story promising the complete list this week.

As Raw Story reports:
"The Pentagon’s records reveal that the law is broadly used—more than 10,000 requests have been made since 2000. But they also illuminate a seeming dearth of curiosity by news organizations about the internal files of the U.S. military establishment.

"This lack of curiosity appears particularly evident among the nation’s three largest newspapers."
The three largest U.S. newspapers -- USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times -- together made just 36 requests between 2000 and February 2005. The Associated Press made 73. The newspaper that made the most requests was the Los Angeles Times, with 42. Next was the Washington Post, with 34. Of television networks, CBS News led in number of requests, with 32, followed by Fox News with 22.

The report prompted Editor & Publisher to ask, Are Media Using the FOIA Enough to Get Military Info?

1 comment:

Martin said...

This lack of curiosity appears particularly evident among the nation’s three largest newspapers

Lack of curiosity among journalists is not really what this shows. Although people tend to assume that reporters are heavy users of FOIA, studies of FOI logs have long shown that the media only account for only 5 to 10 percent of requests to federal agencies. The vast majority of FOI requests come from individuals looking for information about themselves or companies looking for commercially-useful information.

What this really shows is that the slow, often costly process of FOIA requests is not a very useful research tool for reporters working on deadline. As a consequence, most reporters don't see FOIA requests as a routine reporting tool.

For examples of journalists' FOIA frustrations, see the recent report by the Society of Environmental Journalists:

Instead of blaming journalists for this state of affairs, people who care about open government and accountability should support efforts to improve FOIA to make it request processing more timely and easier to appeal, like the
Faster FOIA bill (S. 589) and the OPEN Government bill (S. 394) proposed by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).