"One thing I consider to be the supreme irony of 1995 is that in April, [President Clinton] issued this terrific declassification order . . . and then a month later, he puts up a memo about leakers of national security information being prosecuted," commented RCFP executive director Jane E. Kirtley.
The "constant back and forth and inconsistent policy" is very "frustrating," she said.
"We had great hopes" for the Clinton administration, Kirtley added. "At least with Bush and Reagan, we knew where we stood. We didn't expect anything."
The pronouncement from CIA director John Deutch that he supported the use of journalists in covert actions when necessary, and the controversy surrounding Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's ranking of reporters, evoked little reaction from the White House, Kirtley pointed out.
"That is sort of the general tenor of all this. I don't get the impression that the administration takes these things seriously," she said.
Kirtley said the administration was not "deliberately setting out to get the press," but rather may be guilty of "a sin of omission."
"I give them credit, because there have been positive initiatives, at least good faith attempts, but the fact of the matter is, there are still a lot of problems here," she remarked, noting that some of them "are inherent between the president and the press."
The media share some culpability for the low priority of media issues, "to the extent that we do not report these things or explain why they are important."
The report has been criticized for including items that some see as trivial, but Kirtley explained that "it is not each thing, but the sum of things, that when you add them all up, show a disregard for the independence of the press in reporting what the government is up to."
The report, which is released each year on Freedom of Information Day, groups incidents into seven categories: Disinformation, Freedom of Information, Plumbing Leaks, Policing Thought, Prior Restraint, Secret Government and Stop the Press.
The following are the incidents compiled by the RCFP, by category, from January 1995 through February 1996. The entire report dates back to 1992, when Clinton began his campaign, and includes 305 entries.
January 1995: The White House health care adviser faced prosecution for lying about who were members of the health care task force in an attempt to thwart a lawsuit by groups seeking access to the task force's deliberations. In a sworn statement, he asserted that all members were federal officials, which was not true, but he was not prosecuted.
June 1995: The former chief civilian safety official for the Air Force said the Air Force covered up the true causes of some 30 crashes over seven years to avoid embarrassment and disciplinary action. The allegation led to Air Force and congressional investigations.
November 1995: The administration maintained that the health care task force chaired by the first lady cost only $100,000, but the General Accounting Office, using documents released after two years of fighting for their disclosure, found the cost to be $13.8 million.
February 1996: President Clinton told reporters that his legal bills had been a severe financial strain for his family, seriously depleting their savings. It was later revealed, however, that two insurance policies would cover $900,000 in legal fees incurred during a sexual harassment lawsuit, and that his legal defense fund had raised about $1 million.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
January 1995: No declassification order had been signed by the president 18 months after he promised to re-evaluate the system and release more documents, although the order was signed in April 1995. Also, the new Department of Education regulations amending the Family Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment, would penalize schools that released to the public or press student disciplinary records, including nonacademic and criminal records. Law enforcement records, however, would be subject to states' open records laws.
Also, the U.S. Postal Service refused to release the results of a $11.9 million business survey, saying it could benefit competitors. It also stopped publicizing the results of consumer satisfaction ratings.
February 1995: The Paperwork Reduction Act passed by the House of Representatives allowed government agencies to waive price limitations in providing information to the public.
Also, a reporter in Syracuse, N.Y., got a letter from the Department of the Army Intelligence and Security Command, telling him his FoIA request would not be answered within a 10-day period. The letter came five years after he filed the request, and told him he had 60 days to appeal.
Also, a federal judge backed the president's assertion that it was legal for him to withhold a list of the voluntary contributors to his legal defense fund.
Also, a commissioner from the Securities and Exchange Commission campaigned to have the Administrative Conference of the U.S. redefine Sunshine Act regulations so that agencies headed by collegial bodies could hold meetings in private.
Also, a CIA exhibit honoring filmmaker John Ford, an OSS employee during World War II, was open only to agency employees and official visitors.
April 1995: A federal court in Maine rejected Department of the Interior arguments that letters it sent to the Penobscot Indian Nation regarding tribal compensation for land flooded by a hydroelectric power project were exempt from disclosure under FoIA.
May 1995: A federal judge denied a request from the Department of Commerce to delay the release of documents regarding its secretary's foreign trade missions. An independent counsel was appointed to determine whether big contributors to the Democratic National Committee were invited on foreign trade trips.
Also, the president's nominee for Archivist of the United States, a former Kansas governor who managed Clinton's 1992 election campaign there, was criticized by professional groups for having no experience as an archivist or a historian.
June 1995: The Administrative Conference of the United States recommended to Congress that administrative dispute resolution proceedings be redefined so they will be exempt from disclosure under FoIA.
August 1995: The Forest Service lost its fight to prevent disclosing maps showing the habitat of the endangered spotted owl to anyone without a permit to conduct "legitimate studies." Claiming that nondisclosure would prevent harm to the owls, the Forest Service also maintained that the information was protected under an FoIA exemption regarding internal rules.
December 1995: The Internal Revenue Service historian quit in protest over the agency's record keeping, which she said would prevent the public from ever seeing information about policies, actions, procedures and plans. In addition, she said that the IRS had not submitted any records to the National Archives for review and possible disclosure.
January 1995: The CIA told employees that during their regular polygraph tests they would be asked whether they had given any information to the news media.
May 1995: The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission sent an e-mail to the agency's commissioners chastising them for leaking information about FCC decision-making to the press, and singling out a particular commissioner, who in turn blamed the chairman's office for the leaks.
June 1995: President Clinton issued a memo to cabinet officers, warning that anyone found responsible for leaking national security information would be prosecuted by the Justice Department.
February 1996: The Justice Department confirmed that there was an investigation into leaks to Playboy magazine of an FBI crime lab supervisor's communications to the department, but justice officials emphatically denied there was any retaliation against the agent for his criticism of the lab.
January 1995: During his State of the Union address, President Clinton urged the entertainment industry to "understand the damage" from the "incessant, repetitive, mindless violence and irresponsible conduct . . . [that] permeate our media all of the time."
Also, although helpful, a memo from the Department of Housing and Urban Development outlining when it will investigate alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act in newspaper real estate advertising did not resolve the issue of the newspaper's direct liability.
February 1995: Three federal agencies ? the Department of Defense, the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak ? who have the highest advertising budgets of any federal agencies, pledged not to advertise during any programming that features "excessive violence."
April 1995: Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton denounced "loud and angry" voices on "radio, television or in the movies" that inflame public debate. His remarks were reiterated in a speech by the White House chief of staff, who urged the press to encourage public debate that builds consensus instead of polarizing views.
Also, the Federal Communications Commission voted to continue its study of a plan to require at least three hours of educational television programming for children each week.
Also, the FCC fined two television stations, one in Arizona and the other in Pennsylvania, $125,000 and $100,000, respectively, for airing too many commercials during children's television programming.
May 1995: Newspaper ads from the National Rifle Association criticizing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were denounced by the president, who called criticizing federal agents "not the American way, and anybody who does it ought to be ashamed." In addition, citing those criticisms and saying the NRA had "gone too far," the Secret Service disinvited the NRA from its annual pistol match.
Also, following the Oklahoma City bombing, the president proposed a bill that would allow electronic surveillance for all federal crimes and government investigations of organizations that advocate violence, and would deport aliens believed to be involved in international terrorism.
Also, the Federal Communications Commission fined a Buffalo radio station $4,000 for a sexually explicit 1993 broadcast about a man, a woman and a plunger.
July 1995: President Clinton praised the V-chip, which blocks television reception of certain programming, and noted, "If we're going to change the American culture, we have to somehow change the media culture, and we have to do it without finger-pointing."
September 1995: Citing the Children's Television Act, the Federal Communications Commission fined a Binghamton, N.Y., television station $110,000 for violating commercial time limits.
December 1995: A Drug Enforcement Agency agent and the director of the Massachusetts Governor's Alliance Against Drugs entered a Boston radio station during a protest by anti-drug groups against the station, and demanded that it stop playing a CD that contained pro-marijuana songs.
January 1996: The president, in the State of the Union speech, called on the media to "create movies, CDs and television shows you would want you own children and grandchildren to enjoy." He also urged media and entertainment executives to meet with him to work out ratings systems for television and ways to achieve his goal of more educational television programming for children.
Also, after three years of investigation, the government decided not to indict a software developer whose product allowed users to transform electronic messages into code. The government alleged that when the free software was posted on the Internet, it was illegally exported and violated munitions law.
February 1996: The president signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which, among other things, mandated use of the V-chip, which blocks certain television programming based on content ratings.
Also, under the Fair Housing Act, the Department of Justice continued to prosecute dissemination of leaflets and other material containing what it called repugnant views.
February 1995: The Forest Service issued a policy statement prohibiting employees from using e-mail or faxes to send messages "which directly attack the integrity of another employee or which condemn established policies."
April 1995: To settle a Department of Justice lawsuit, Madison Square Garden agreed to move tobacco advertisements out of view of television cameras.
May 1995: The government lost an appeal of its rule that Environmental Protection Agency staffers could not accept travel expense reimbursements from private groups for speaking engagements that had nothing to do with their official duties.
Also, a Department of Agriculture investigator was stripped of all meaningful assignments and passed over for a promotion after he told his supervisors that animal welfare laws for dealers were not being properly enforced.
July 1995: The director of Radio Marti fired a news analyst who had complained that his commentaries were being censored because of his views. A U.S. Information Agency investigation of the government-funded radio station found that members of its advisory board had interfered with news coverage.
August 1995: Proposals from the Food and Drug Administration would restrict the content of tobacco advertising to a black-and-white tombstone format in publications with a certain amount of youth readers and would regulate where outdoor tobacco advertising could be placed.
January 1995: A Board of Veteran's Appeals attorney was sentenced to 15 months in prison for destroying and stealing documents that were crucial to the benefits claims of hundreds of veterans. The attorney apologized and said his actions were due to stress.
March 1995: The Attorney General refused to release documents from the Justice Department's investigation of the Housing and Urban Development secretary, who was accused of lying to the FBI about how much money he paid to a former mistress and when the payments stopped.
The documents were released in May 1995 after an independent counsel was appointed.
Also, while promoting partnerships with Mexico, the U.S. government concealed allegations of corruption against top Mexican officials.
Also, 14 months after a Guatemalan guerilla fighter had been captured and killed by military forces, the CIA released a document indicating it had known about his fate since September 1993, but did not tell his wife, who is an American lawyer who went on a highly publicized hunger strike in her efforts to get information, or the White House.
April 1995: Under a new executive order prompted by the Aldrich Ames spy case, intelligence agencies were granted the power to investigate the private lives of officials who are privy to government secrets.
May 1995: The FBI reviewed classified documents ? which it refused to release ? and used them to debunk allegations in a book that claimed U.S. scientists who developed the atomic bomb passed on secrets to the Soviet Union.
September 1995: The president exerted executive privilege and refused to release to Congress documents related to the firing of the White House Travel Office staff, submitting only a log of documents he considered privileged.
December 1995: The Federal Communications Commission chairman told an audience that from 1992 to 1994, the FCC had quietly enforced mandatory time minimums for children's educational television by using it as a standard for license renewals.
January 1996: The National Reconnaissance Office, which builds spy satellites, reported to Congress that it had misplaced more than $2 billion from its $28 billion budget, which is classified above "top secret."
STOP THE PRESS
January 1995: The president proposed that television stations be required to give free air time to political candidates, an idea that was called "political welfare" and a First Amendment infringement by the National Association of Broadcasters.
Also, the U.S. Information Agency stopped funding for the University of Maryland-run American Journalism Center in Budapest, which was then forced to close and its offices were taken over by the USIA.
Also, the president and first lady continued their tradition of attending the off-the-record Renaissance Weekend at Hilton Head, S.C., but they stayed only one night.
February 1995: A news director from a Spanish-language radio station in Miami was denied entrance to the Guant?namo Bay Naval Base after the Navy accused him of urging Cuban detainees to commit acts of violence against U.S. military personnel. The news director denied the accusation.
Also, the White House Correspondents Association presented a report to the new press secretary that complained about the White House press office's "casual disregard for precision and accuracy" and asked for better access and treatment. In an attempt to get staffers to understand the importance of working with the press, the press secretary started fining staffers who had not helped reporters $1, which was put in a kitty for pizza.
March 1995: A top White House adviser said that instantaneous news coverage made decisiveness, not fact-gathering and analysis, the "highest governing virtue."
Also, 60 Minutes refused a request from the national security staff to view in advance of airing a report the program was preparing on Gulf War Syndrome.
April 1995: At the request of the FBI, the New York Times deleted three paragraphs from portions of a letter from the Unabomber that was published in the paper.
June 1995: Agreeing with the government's arguments that it would be necessary to avoid disclosure of detailed information about CIA agents' covert work, a judge barred reporters from the courtroom as current and former CIA employees testified about the agency's discrimination against women.
Also, the General Services Administration in New York barred members of the media from federal buildings unless they were escorted by government staffers. The GSA maintained the measure was designed to protect federal employees and the security of federal buildings after the Oklahoma City bombing. The policy was revised in July 1995, allowing reporters to have full access, but keeping the restriction for photographers and camera crews.
July 1995: U.S. Postal Inspectors posed as reporters while collecting information for a case. After protests from the media, the Postmaster General told inspectors to stop using this tactic.
September 1995: The Attorney General and FBI director urged the publishers of the Washington Post and New York Times to publish the 35,000-word manifesto from the Unabomber, a condition he gave for ceasing his attacks. The papers agreed, citing "public safety reasons."
December 1995: Federal agencies were told by the administration not to schedule one-on-one interviews with replacement workers from the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press, which have been subject to a labor strike since July 1995.
Also, two reporters were physically blocked by Secret Service agents who tried to prevent them from interviewing officials in the White House driveway and a photographer was shoved by an officer while trying to take pictures. The White House press office promised to prevent future incidents of reporter abuse.
January 1996: The president gave a half-hour speech during the annual off-the-record Renaissance Weekend at Hilton Head, S.C.
Also, the president gave his first news conference in nine months, only the fifth of his administration.
February 1996: Following a Council on Foreign Relations report that suggested the CIA reconsider posing as and using journalists for intelligence operations, the director of the CIA told Congress that when intelligence agencies believed it necessary, they would continue to recruit journalists for covert actions.
?("One thing I consider to be the supreme irony of 1995 is that in April, [President Clinton] issue this terrific declassification order...and then a month later, he puts up a memo about leakers of national security information being prosecuted. We had great hopes for the Clinton administration. At least with Bush and Reagan, we knew where we stood. We didn't expect anything.") [Caption]
?(-Reporters Committee executive director Jane E. Kirtley.) [Photo & Caption]
By: Debra Gersh-Hernandez THE ANNUAL REPORT on the Clinton administration and the news media from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press shows a mixed bag of good initiatives and some that were not so good.