Sunday, March 16, 2003

Celebrate FOIA, annoy a bureaucrat

Today is National Freedom of Information Day, the 39th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act, a law which not only enhances the power of individuals over the government, but also gives citizens a recipe book for exercising their rights. Review-Journal Editor Tom Mitchell celebrates the day in this week's column, also noting how state and federal policy-makers continue in their efforts to circumvent FOIA.

Today is also -- not coincidentally -- the 252nd anniversary of the birth of James Madison (my long-time friend Al Dawson's favorite president/founding father), whose theories of governance are reflected in FOIA.

Speaking of Madison ... The R-J's editorial positions tend to confuse some readers (and confound others), because the paper is, in many ways, one of the few remaining outlets of classical liberalism (very broadly speaking) among daily newspapers in America. The paper pretty consistently defends the individual against the government, which places us apart from contemporary conservatives (we oppose the excesses of the drug war and welfare of all forms, including the corporate variety) and liberals (we're strident opponents of campaign "reform" and other attempts to stifle free expression). Not to toot our own horn, but today's commemoration of FOI day reminded me of an editorial board meeting we had nearly two years ago with the folks from the First Amendment Foundation at Vanderbilt University -- the outfit run by John Siegenthaler Sr. which runs the Newseum in Arlington, Va. The forum not only promotes the freedoms the First Amendment represents, but also serves as a media watchdog of sorts, chronicling instances when the press operates as a lap dog more than a watchdog of government actions.

The editorial board took place because the forum was sponsoring a series of First Amendment rallies in various cities, including Las Vegas. During the meeting, the forum folks paid us a terrific compliment. They said they try to read as many daily editorial pages as they can, and of the hundreds they see, the R-J's may be the most consistent defender of the First Amendment and all five freedoms stated within (can you name them all?) of any newpaper in the nation. Recalling that tribute kinda makes me all gushy inside.

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