WHEN THE DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER Laura Poitras filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against three US government agencies this week, most media outlets ran stories on the details that built her argument, overlooking the issue of public records. It’s an important story with profound implications for the press. Yet lost in the narrative was the legal spine of her case, a second threat to journalism in this country: the worrisome way the federal government handles FOIA requests. Poitras’ lawsuit does not seek damages for harassment, as some news outlets and blogs mistakenly claimed and/or implied. She just wants to know what information the government has on her. She filed a series of FOIA requests in 2014—all of which were either caught in the backlog or denied.
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Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma writer and a former civilian US Army Public Information Officer. She is a Managing Editor for OpEd News, and a regular contributor for a variety of Internet sites.