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Home > Publications > SPJ Leads > Secret senator revealed! Are you in the FOIA habit?

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SPJ Leads | 5/31/2007
Secret senator revealed! Are you in the FOIA habit?


By Willie Schatz
President, Washington DC Pro Chapter

‘SECRET SENATOR’ REVEALED. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is the first to earn the title “Senator Secrecy” for placing a secret hold on Senate Bill 849, also known as the Open Government Act of 2007. The bill would significantly reform the federal Freedom of Information Act, which is one of the strongest tools Americans have to supervise the inner workings of government and to hold elected officials accountable.

Ryan Patmintra, Kyl’s press secretary, confirmed that Kyl placed the hold to allow for more negotiations among him, bill co-sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and the U.S. Justice Department. It’s no secret that Kyl has concerns about the Open Government Act, Patmintra said.

“If Sen. Kyl’s concerns are no secret, then why would he insist on working from the shadows to place a hold on this very important legislation?” asked Christine Tatum, SPJ’s National President and an assistant features editor at The Denver Post. “The irony of secretly blocking a vote on a bill that would make government more transparent is supreme. Sen. Kyl should feel pretty silly.”

Kyl is behind another bill that concerns SPJ. Known as the Kyl Amendment, it would criminalize the leaking — and publishing — of classified information.

“So, Sen. Kyl is ‘Senator Secrecy’ in more ways than one,” Tatum said.

Is Kyl the only senator who placed hold on the Open Government Act of 2007? Only a few senators have not yet responded to SPJ’s questioning. We’ll continue to make calls and keep you posted.

ABOUT BILL 849. The Senate Judiciary Committee on April 12 passed the Open Government Act, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill would strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act, reduce delays in releasing government records, and hold public officials accountable.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a similar measure in March. But that bill was blocked from reaching the Senate floor for a May 24 vote because Senator Kyl placed a secret hold on the bill. It’s unclear at this time if he was acting alone.

WHAT YOU CAN DO. Together, we can determine if Senator Kyl had help. Visit SPJ’S “Senator Secrecy” page and see whether your senators already have been called or if they did not already comment. Ask simply and politely if they are working with Kyl. While you’re on the line, please make clear that you support the Open Government Act — and thatyou want your senator to do the same. Then submit your findings. We’ll add it to the online tally.

OTHER OPTIONS. You’re in a prime position to shed light on the Open Government Act and apply pressure where it is needed most. In addition to calling your senators, please consider the following:

— Write letters and send e-mails to your senators about the importance of the Open Government Act. All senators have a contact section on their personal Web sites. Visit the United States Senate Web site to locate your senator. Many senators will only respond to residents in their home state, another reason to think locally.

— Raise awareness and encourage members of your newsroom to write stories about this issue.

— Host a brown bag lunch meeting in your newsroom or on your campus where this matter can be openly discussed.

THE WHOLE STORY. Immigration was once ignored almost completely by East Coast papers and national television. Now it’s acknowledged as an essential national story in nearly every state. SPJ member and Sacramento Bee senior writer Susan Ferriss provides tips when reporting on immigration issues.

FILIPPO v. THE TIMES.  Judge James T. Moody, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, granted summary judgment for The Times, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.The court held that the plaintiff, Lita Filippo — former vice chair of the Partnership for a Drug-Free Lake County, a quasi-public agency that educates youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol — had failed to establish actual malice for reports on her 2003 drunk driving arrest.The court in Filippo v. Lee Publications, Inc., after reviewing precedent, held as a matter of law that the two articles, two editorials, two editorial cartoons, and letter to the editor that Filippo challenged involved matters of public concern. Read more about the case.

ARE YOU IN THE FOIA HABIT? If so, please let us know! SPJ will showcase how state and federal Freedom of Information laws have played a major role in everyday news stories at the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C., Oct. 4-7. If you have quality examples that deserve recognition, please contact D.C. Pro Chapter program producer Hazel Becker ( or former national FOI Committee chairman Ian Marquand (

AND SPEAKING OF THE CONVENTION. Registration is now open for the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in the capital city! Get preliminary details, and plan to be part of a fun and educational weekend. Lodging at SPJ’s special rate will go fast, so make your reservations today!

AND THE WINNER IS. Congratulations to the 2006 New America Award winners. First place went to theAARP Bulletin and AARP Segunda Juventud for “Get Smart With Your Money/Sabios con su Dinero.” The runner-up is EVS Communications, in collaboration with NBC4 and Telemundo Washington, for Línea Directa, its Spanish-language television series.This is the third year for theaward, which honors collaborative public service journalism by ethnic and mainstream news media working together to explore and expose issues of importance to immigrant or ethnic communities in the United States. Recipients will receive their awards at the Society’s annual Sigma Delta Chi Awards banquet July 20 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

KUDOS. The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania honored Pittsburgh SPJ board member and former chapter president Bob Mayo with the Service to Journalism Award during the May 14 Golden Quill Awards. He also won the Golden Quill Award for television spot news and the Ed King Memorial Award for Television (best in show) that night.

MORE HEARTY CONGRATS. Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, announced this month that he has accepted a position with the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication as the Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism, beginning January 2008.  Goodman has served the SPLC since 1985. Read the full story.

SPLC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JOB OPENING. Anyone interested in pursuing Goodman’s current position at the Student Press Law Center can visit and view the complete job description. Please send resume and cover letter by June 30, 2007, to

JOSH WOLF’S NEXT SENTENCE: THE COLBERT REPORT. A reliable source (are there any others in our business?) reports that Josh has been invited to face off with Steven on June 12. The show is on Comedy Central. Check times and channels for your local providers.

GOT ETHICS? The SPJ Bluegrass Chapter will host the third installment of its “Learning from the Best” series in Lexington, Ky. The workshop will cover “Minimizing Harm: Dealing Ethically with Victims and their Families.” Joe Hight with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma will speak on the best practices for interviewing victims and their families. He will also discuss dealing with children. When: June 2, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lexington Herald-Leader office, 100 Midland Ave.  Cost: $10 for SPJ members, $20 for non-members and $5 for students. Lunch is included. More information: Contact Patti Cross, (502) 223-8525 or

MAKING ‘VROOM’ FOR ETHICS. When the National Ethics Committee invited SPJ’ers to contribute ethics codes to our online collection, Michael F. Hollander responded. Hollander, the national vice president of the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association, sent a link to his group’s “White Paper” on coverage guidelines. If you’d like to share your media organization’s ethics code, please send it to National Ethics Committee Chairman Andy Schotz at

GOT NARRATION?  SPJ will host a Narrative Writing Workshop on June 9 in San Diego. SPJ members may register for $35 and non-members for $50.  The daylong program will help participants reinvigorate their writing. Questions? Contact Heather Porter at or (317) 927-8000, ext. 204.

Can’t make the San Diego workshop? Consider additional workshops scheduled for Saturday, June 23 in Columbia, S.C., or Saturday, July 28 in Denver, Colo.

WRITING THAT WORKS. Cliché leads should be avoided like the plague. Freedom Forum Editor-in-Residence Dick Thien offers tips for writing succinctly.

CALLING ALL CAPITOL REPORTERS! Gather your best work from the past year and enter the only contest exclusively for state government coverage. Capitolbeat, the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, honors the best Statehouse reporting in print, broadcast and online media each year, along with a special Aubuchon Freedom of Information Award, covering all media. All work must have been published or aired between June 1, 2006, and May 31, 2007. Deadline:  June 1. More information: Visit Capitolbeat’s Web site.

RACE RELATIONS. The Magazine Publishers of America will sponsor a town hall, “Race, Identity and Privilege in Media,” in New York City. Top media leaders will discuss some of the most important challenges facing American media today, including stereotyping, intolerance and social justice When: June 19. Registration and more information: Visit The Magazine Publishers of America Web site.

LILLY SCHOLARS. The Religion Newswriters Association is offering scholarships of up to $5,000 to full-time journalists who would like to take religion courses at accredited colleges or seminaries. Interested journalists, including designers, editors, freelancers, photographers and reporters, do not have to cover the religion beat to participate in the Lilly Scholarships Religion Program. The goal of the program is to better equip journalists with the knowledge they need to report on religion issues, as well as explore the opportunities to grow in their personal spiritual journey. Deadlines:  July 1 and October 1. More information: Call Amy Schiska, (614) 891-9001, ext. 3# or visit the association’s Web site.

OPENING IN THE TRI STATES. A new student chapter is forming in Scioto County and surrounding areas of southern Ohio and the northern counties of Kentucky and West Virginia. Anyone in this area who’s interested in being part of the new chapter should contact Ryan Scott Ottney ( for information on its upcoming meeting.


SO LONG, FAREWELL. Layne R. Beaty, 93, was a pioneer in farm reporting who oversaw the U.S. Agriculture Department’s radio and television broadcasts for more than 25 years. Beaty died on May 11 at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville, Md.

Beaty broadcasted his first radio farm program in Oklahoma in the late 1930s, he was chief of radio and television for the USDA from 1955 to 1980. Beaty also edited a USDA newsletter that was distributed to farm broadcasters across the country; he broadcasted a live weekly report for five years on “The National Farm and Home Hour” on NBC radio when its Washington studios were in the old Sheraton Park Hotel; and he was a regular contributor to ABC’s “American Farmer” and CBS’s “Columbia’s Country Journal.” Beaty was a member of SPJ since 1948.

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