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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Jeff Jarvis FOIAs Feds for More Armstrong-like Deals

Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine is asking the question that ought to be the next step in the reaction to news of Armstrong Williams' sweetheart deal with the Department of Education to flak for the No Child Left Behind Act - Who else is the government buying to tout the government's agenda?

To that end, Jarvis vows to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to all agencies seeking information and documentation on all similar contracts. More specifically, he requests:

"Records of any and all advertising and/or public-relations fees to promote No Child Left Behind or any other Department of Education program or agenda. This includes payments made through an agency or directly to any media organization -- including but not limited to newspapers, magazines, TV shows, radio shows, webloggers, commentators, or spokesmen. This should include any payments made in the last four years."

Having filed more FOIA requests with federal agencies during my years as a newspaper journalist than I care to remember, I can probably predict fairly accurately what kind of responses Jeff will get to his requests. The law requires a response acknowledging receipt of the original request within 15 days. I once received such an acknowledgment more than a year after filing the original request!

That said, the FOIA can be a powerful weapon, especially when the Blogosphere discovers its potential. I say it all the time to MSM colleagues and now I say it to blog colleagues as well: If you haven't filed at least one FOIA this week, you aren't doing your job as well as you could. Maybe the Armstrong Williams/DoED deal will inspire a blog swarm of FOIAs!

If you are interested in filing an FOIA for any reason, but you don't know how to do it, go here for straightforward, easy to read explanations, including sample letters. Believe me, the process is so simple that you shouldn't need an attorney. You can also find lots of useful information on the Justice Department's FOIA office page here. And there is the web site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has a good FOIA section, including a handy FOIA letter generator, here.