By: Joe Strupp
Reporters and editors shouldn’t expect Alberto Gonzales — named by President Bush today as the nominee to succeed outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft — to be very responsive to press demands for access, given comments he made to a group of editors just two years ago.
“There is a danger for the president’s lawyer to be addressing a roomful of editors,” Gonzales joked in remarks to editors in October 2002.
Speaking then to the Associated Press Managing Editors conference in Baltimore, Gonzales, who held his current White House counsel post at the time, made it clear that the administration would not bend over backward to give journalists government information.
“You have a right to know what is going on in government,” Gonzales said at the time. “But we also believe such rights are not absolute.”
During the same speech, when he addressed concerns that the administration had been quick to withhold sensitive information in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Gonzales stated, “Our policy is that we expect [federal] agencies to follow the law.”
When asked about Freedom of Information Act requests being delayed or ignored, he said, “If an exception exists, [agencies] can follow the law.” If the agencies decide to withhold information “that is permissible under law” they “may do so,” he added.
After the speech, several editors offered concern about Gonzales’ outlook on press relations. “When a message is given out to government that they don?t have to give out documents if they don’t want to, that shows they are antagonistic to open records,” George Stanley, managing editor of the Milwaukee (Wis.) Journal Sentinel, told E&P at the time.
For Ken Tuck, then deputy managing editor of The Dothan (Ala.) Eagle, the comments meant “we may not get what we need when we need it.”