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Home > SPJ News > SPJ Joins Legal Action Against Executive Order to Withhold Presidential Records

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SPJ Joins Legal Action Against Executive Order to Withhold Presidential Records

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
3/1/2002


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CONTACTS:
Al Cross, SPJ President, 502/875-5136 ext. 14 or across@mis.net
Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee co-chairman,
406/542-4449 or ian@kpax.com

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is urging a U.S. District Court to quash President George W. Bush’s unprecedented, self-imposed veto power over the use of presidential records.

SPJ and eight other organizations joined a friend-of-the-court legal brief filed Feb. 28 by The Association of American Publishers, Inc. The brief asks the district court to issue an order that allows the National Records and Archives Administration to administer presidential records according to the Presidential Records Act of 1978. President Bush issued an Executive Order on Nov. 1 granting the current president, a former president, or a former president's estate the power to block scheduled releases of presidential records.

Under the order, a former president may block the release of his papers under the Presidential Records Act for any reason. In addition, a sitting president may withhold records of a former president, even when his predecessor wants to release them.

“The president’s order undermines the central purpose of the Presidential Records Act, which is to treat these records as public property with reasonable time limits,” said SPJ President Al Cross, political writer and columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. “This takes us back to the bad old days of treating presidential records as private property, which we thought went out with the Nixon administration.”

SPJ strongly opposes the Nov. 1 Executive Order because it allows the president in office to keep records secret for an undesignated length of time. SPJ argues that this extreme measure is unnecessary because the law already has a 12-year waiting period that is adequate to protect national security and personal reputations.

“President Bush’s order essentially is an attempt to veto a valid law that’s been on the books for more than 20 years,” said Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee co-chairman and special projects coordinator for the Montana Television Network. “The White House should allow the law to work and let the National Archives administer presidential records under the considerable protections of the Freedom of Information Act.”

SPJ has been opposed to this order since its issuance. Society leaders sent a letter Nov. 6 to the House Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations asking the members to consider the president’s Nov. 1 Executive Order an abuse of power and an avoidance of public accountability.

SPJ also has pointed to a possible conflict of interest on the part of President Bush. The only records scheduled for release during Bush’s current term are those of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and many of the current president’s top advisers also worked in the inner circle of his father.

“While that may have nothing to do with this order, it certainly raises additional questions about the effects of the order,” Cross said. “Also, we are concerned that the order will leave gaps in the historical record, putting its integrity in doubt and threatening the public’s interest in having the greatest possible insight into the performance of the government.”

The friend-of-the-court legal brief was filed in the case of American Historical Association vs. The National Archives and Records Administration. Organizations joining besides SPJ were: the Association of American University Presses, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, The Authors Guild, Inc., the Freedom to Read Foundation, PEN American Center, The Publishers Marketing Association, and the Society of American Historians.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

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