Joe Davis on Secrecy and the Memory Hole

I asked my friend and colleague Joe Davis – editor of the SEJ Tipsheet, which I write for, and respected expert on information access and the media – to comment on my previous article.

Joe was at the FOIA breakfast workshop I mentioned. He was not the reporter with whom I discussed The Memory Hole, but he had some interesting points to make when reviewing my article. I share his views here with his permission…

Joe Davis writes:

  • “Journalists can and should attempt to authenticate any documents they get from anywhere – not just the Memory Hole, not just leakers and wackos, but even official sources (although this may less often be necessary). Authentication is often rather obvious and non-rigorous. For something important, there’s no reason not to to call the agency and ask if a leaked or suppressed document is at least authentic. A non-response can become part of the story. But denials are harder when you have the document in hand.”
  • The Memory Hole is just a special case of something that’s been going on on a major scale for a long time in US journalism… namely The Leak. There has always been a Gray Zone, and it’s usually been pretty large. AND it’s usually been fairly treacherous territory. (I learned the hard way when covering Congress that a favorite tactic of the Machiavellians was to go off the record and tell a malicious lie about their opponent – because they can’t be held accountable.) But documents have a special force that whispers don’t.”
  • “Kick’s site publishes just a micro-nano-fraction of the good stuff that is out there and needs to be published. I think of it more as an inspiring example than a regularly useful resource.”
  • “Right now, the huge preponderance of the impetus toward secrecy is coming from let us say the “rightward” side of the political spectrum – not just the ideological conservatives and Bush-GOP, but the corporate and military interests behind them. As a political issue, openness is not symmetrical. This it is neither a shame nor a surprise that there should appear to be some agenda to Kick’s site or open-government efforts generally. This is hardly a reason not to do them, nor is it a reason to manufacture ‘false balance’ by stretching too hard to unearth Democrats’ efforts for secrecy.”