Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NOW Home Page
Home
Politics & Economy
Science & Health
Arts & Culture
Society & Community
Discussion
TV Schedule
Newsletter
For Educators
Archive
Topic Index
Search:
Talk Back Now
"The people's "right to know" is NOT on the run. What's on the run is the media's and their accomplices in the legal profession's, god complex that they are somehow entitled to know every fact, important or trivial, because they can. What you can know and what you need to know are NOT the same thing." Talk back on the boards.

American flag
4.05.02
Politics and Economy:
Bill Moyers on the Freedom of Information Act


In the interest of full disclosure you should know that the "Freedom of Information Act" was passed when Lyndon Johnson was President and I was his Press Secretary. He signed it on July 4, 1966; signed it with language that was almost lyrical; signed it, he said, "With a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society in which the people's right to know is cherished and guarded."

View the Commentary
Bill Moyers
Bill Moyers
on the Freedom of Information Act

Well, yes, but what few people knew at the time is that LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of the Freedom of Information Act; hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government closets; hated them challenging the official view of reality. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. Only the courage and political skill of a Congressman named John Moss got the bill passed at all, and that was after a twelve-year battle against his elders in Congress who blinked every time the sun shined in the dark corridors of power. They managed to cripple the bill Moss had drafted. And even then, only some last-minute calls to LBJ from a handful of newspaper editors overcame the President's reluctance; he signed "the damned thing," as he called it (only I'm paraphrasing, out of respect for PBS standards); he signed it, and then went out to claim credit for it.

It's always a fight, to find out what the government doesn't want us to know. It's a fight we're once again losing. Not only has George W. Bush eviscerated the Presidential Records Act and FOIA, he has clamped a lid on public access across the board. It's not just historians and journalists he wants locked out; it's Congress... and it's you, the public and your representatives.

We're told it's all about national security, but that's not so. Keeping us from finding out about the possibility of accidents at chemical plants is not about national security; it's about covering up an industry's indiscretions. Locking up the secrets of those meetings with energy executives is not about national security; it's about hiding the confidential memorandum sent to the White House by Exxon Mobil showing the influence of oil companies on the administration's policy on global warming. We only learned about that memo this week, by the way, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. May it rest in peace.

Tell us what you think.

Secret Government

Freedom of Information Act Resources

Additional Essays:


about feedback pledge © Public Affairs Television. All rights reserved.
go to the full archive