May 1, 2013

Bloomberg | Richmond Times-Dispatch | SCOTUSblog | Los Angeles Times | MuckRock

“This is like the epitome of the really small-stakes story that…does not fundamentally change anything ever,” Washingtonian editor Garrett M. Graff told Poynter in January, about the magazine’s thwarted scoop that Beyoncé had lip-synced the National Anthem at President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony.

Not so fast, Graff! Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio writes that a FOIA request for Marine Corps “documents and e-mails generated between Jan. 22 and 23″ met with a (B)(6): An exemption that ‘prohibits disclosure of personal information when an individual’s privacy interest outweighs any public interest.'” Bloomberg got 172 pages in return, Capaccio writes, not one of which mentioned the singer. Even Bloomberg’s request for the documents was returned with Beyonce’s name replaced by “(B)(6).”

(B)(6) sings the National Anthem on Jan. 21, 2013 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Reason’s Mike Riggs wrote last year about the Obama administration’s crummy record on FOIA requests.

FOIA requests took another hit Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled Virginia can continue to deny Freedom of Information Act requests to out-of-state residents. Virginia is one of eight states with such restrictions; the others are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee.

Some light is good and we’re happy to do it, but there’s got to be some line because it can be very time-consuming,” Assistant Henrico County (Va.) Attorney Ben Thorp told Laura Kebede.

The Supreme Court said “There is no constitutional right to obtain all the information provided by” FOIA laws, Lyle Denniston writes in an analysis of the decision. Noncitizens, the decision written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. says, can obtain many documents sought in FOIAs by the petitioners by visiting courthouses. “The Court has repeatedly stated that the Constitution does not guarantee the existence of FOIA laws,” Alito writes.

In other words, anyone hoping to amend Virginia’s law — (which I should note reads in its preamble “shall be liberally construed to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities and afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government”) — will have to petition the state legislature to expand its reach.

Los Angeles Times Supreme Court correspondent David G. Savage spoke with Roger Hurlbert, one of the two men who challenged Virginia’s law. Hurlbert “runs a business obtaining hard-to-find real estate records,” Savage writes, and “said he would ‘abandon’ doing business in Virginia.”

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I’ve gotten around to most of the states,” he said. “I gather records — property taxes, assessments and the like — that others have difficulty getting.”

MuckRock is soliciting volunteers to cosign FOIA requests in states with restrictive laws.

Previously in Poynter’s ongoing series on Beyoncé and the free press: Publications can no longer send photographers to Beyoncé shows | How Washingtonian lost its Beyoncé lip-synching scoop

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
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