In preparation for a spring class in investigative journalism, my classmates and I began filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests this week.
There is a certain amount of glamour in investigative journalism. Think clandestine meetings, code names, scandals, lies, and top-level resignations. Here are some tips on investigative journalism from Bob Woodward, a man whose name is almost synonymous with the profession:
Maybe investigative journalism holds such appeal because behind it there is the ennobling idea that the truth can triumph over power and money.
I was a little surprised myself by how the simple act of printing out a letter to a government agency, writing “Freedom of Information Act Request” on the envelope, and sending it off via registered post made me a little less cynical about American democracy. Of course, I haven’t received any documents back yet, and may not for several more months. But I’m still happy to know that as a citizen I have a right to demand information from my government.
Below is a list of some famous cases in which important information was obtained through the use of FOIA. The list was compiled by the PBS show NOW, as background for an episode on government transparency entitled Veil of Secrecy.
|The Department of Transportation and other agencies are sued for information in the famous Ford Pinto gas tank case, 1978.||The car is recalled.|
|The FDA is sued for information on Red Dye #2 in 1971.||The substance is banned in 1977.|
|The FDA released results of studies on aspirin and Reye’s Syndrome in children in 1982.||A mandatory warning label is added.|
|Law students at George Washington University forced the release of 2,500 pages of federal and state documents.||Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned.|