Fort Worth Weekly fans, break out the cheap beer and leftover pretzels. Officers, holster your Tasers. College administrators, clean up your act. Citizens – be very worried.
Confused? No problem. Static will have these themes plaited together before you can say “official secrets act.”
Never heard of that one? OK, let’s start there. That’s what a lot of folks are calling a bill filed recently by a Missouri senator – and co-sponsored by, among others, Texas’ own John Cornyn – that would criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. That means it would become a crime to hand over to the public or a reporter any piece of information that the government had deemed classified. Forget Watergate, forget disclosure of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. Think big chill on government whistleblowing.
If that sounds OK to you, remember that the Bush Administration since 2001 has been in a headlong rush to suppress everything from info that would show how badly FEMA screwed up in Hurricane Katrina to the maps that would let citizens know whether hazardous materials are being carried through their cities. Whereas formerly only very limited numbers of documents were deemed secret after a lengthy process, the Bushies have been handing out “top secret” ink pads, it seems, to everyone with an IQ above Dubya’s, stamping as non-releasable every snake-belly plan they dream up, from tapping our bank records and phone calls to torturing and holding incommunicado any “suspect” they damn well please. Ah, if only that were exaggeration.
If this worries you, visit www.cjog.net. There, courtesy of the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, you can keep tabs – if you dare – on all the things the government is doing these days to make this into a closed society. Who needs scary movies – this stuff will make your blood run cold without a single axe in sight.
All the more reason for organizations like the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas to keep up their work. The Weekly, along with numerous Texas colleges, has worked with the FOI Foundation in the past several years on the Light of Day project, through which college students learn about open records while producing some damned fine investigative journalism (don’t take our word; the stories have won numerous state and regional awards and at least one national). Topics have included a statewide look at use and abuse of Tasers by sheriffs’ departments and the failure of many Texas colleges to follow federal law in telling students about crime on campus.
This week, two pieces of good news arrived from the foundation. First, the organization’s 2006 James Madison Award, honoring those who support the First Amendment and open government, will go to a trio of Pulitzer Prize winners – Dan Malone, Craig Flournoy, and Gayle Reaves – for their Light of Day work. Flournoy’s an SMU journalism prof. Malone left the Weekly staff recently in order to teach journalism full-time at Tarleton State U. Reaves is this rag’s editor. Malone – then teaching at the University of North Texas, another key Light of Day player – and Flournoy were among the instigators of the project as well as shepherding the students’ work; Reaves edited several of the stories and ran them in the Weekly. And second, the foundation has received two grants that will allow it to continue and enlarge the Light of Day project.
Public officials with something to hide – be worried, very worried.