Thursday, July 01, 2004

If we tell you, we'll have to kill you
If the closing of basic driver's license information annoyed the hell out of you, then from what I'm reading, the highway-spending bill before Congress ought to scare the beejeezus out of you. In a nutshell, James Bruggers of the Louisville Courier-Journal points to two sentences in the bill:
One sentence would supersede states' open-records laws, including those in Kentucky and Indiana. The other would give the federal Transportation Security Administration wide latitude in defining what is "sensitive" and should be kept secret, letting the agency's director withhold information deemed "detrimental to the safety of passengers in transportation, transportation facilities or infrastructure or transportation employees...."
(Link to full story.)
The potential for mischief here is astronomical. I covered transportation and urban affairs for years, and I don't think it's Chicken Little when critics say it could put almost all information about transportation of hazardous materials off-limits. Which, of course, means that at some point something will leak or explode, and the public will blame us as journalists, saying "Why didn't you tell us?"
So, yes, there is a public service reason that the industry should unite and fight this kind of stuff, but there's also a business reason -- we can't afford ($$ as well as other reasons) to take hits to our credibility, and we WILL get blamed, no matter what we say, if we don't fight this stuff openly and fiercely.

The original tip came from the Watchdog Edition of the Society of Environmental Journalists Tipsheet. Here's the Poynter article that provided the pointer.

That same tipsheet contains an earlier article that the Homeland Security Department wants to make parts or all of its environmental impact statements secret.

This reminds me a bit of Rhode Island, a sometimes Kafkaesque state, where in some towns, on the main streets, many of the street signs showed the streets coming off the street you were on, but never showed the street you were on. Perfect, of course, for ensure a stranger never knew exactly where he or she was. I filed it under that general R.I. attitude of "If you don't know, you don't need to know."


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