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Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin recipient of 2022 Black Hole Award


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3/17/2022


CONTACT:
Haisten Willis, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chair, 317-927-8000, haisten.willis@gmail.com
Michelle Lagos, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000, mlagos@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is presenting its annual Black Hole Award to Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin for declining to provide records of the public comment section under her official state website and pushing back on media outlets for taking legal actions to gain access to that information.

The Black Hole Award is bestowed annually upon government institutions or agencies for acts of outright contempt of the public’s right to know. The recipient is announced during Sunshine Week each year.

In May 2021, McGeachin organized a “Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education,” which was intended to “root out the alleged ‘teachings on social justice, critical race theory, socialism, communism (and) Marxism’ from public schools,” the nomination letter states.

McGeachin claimed that these efforts address the “most significant threats facing our society today” as Idahoans are frustrated with the lack of transparency and leadership coming from the state regarding public education.

The official website for the task force allowed parents and others to give feedback via a Google document form.

As of May 4, the site had received nearly 3,600 comments, according to McGeachin’s Chief of Staff Jordan Watters.

Three Idaho news organizations, The Capital Sun, The Idaho Stateman and Idaho Education News, requested copies of the comments through the state’s Open Records Act.

Journalists, including Audrey Dutton with the Idaho Capital Sun, were first told they would only receive some of the requested information as some of it was exempted from disclosure. Along with receiving incomplete records, the news organizations were told they would have to pay fees as hefty as $1,540 to file the request.

The request was ultimately denied, or the files were heavily redacted.

As Dutton explained, they received documents that failed to list the respondents’ names and email addresses, and most of the comments submitted were blacked out.

Despite McGeachin being told by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office that she needed to disclose the records under state law, McGeachin took to social media to criticize the news organizations for pushing back on their response and for pursuing legal actions. She argued that the media could potentially release the personal information on the files, and those on the record could face retaliation.

Ultimately, through the lawsuit filed by The Idaho Press Club in July, it was decided that McGeachin’s attempts to withhold the documents from public view were baseless. Her office was required to pay the Idaho Press Club’s legal fees and additional fines.

In the officially released documents, The Idaho Capital Sun found that the public feedback was overwhelmingly opposed to her education task force.

Previous recipients of the Black Hole Award include Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, President Trump and his administration and the Connecticut State Police.

Nominations come from journalists, open government advocates and the general public.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.

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