The Freedom of Information Act: A backgrounder

The Freedom of Information Act was signed July 4, 1966 by then United States President Lyndon B. Johnson at his ranch in Texas (National Security Archive, 2008). But Johnson did not approve of the law, as shown by the refusal of the President to even hold a formal signing event for the bill (National, 2008). In fact, Johnson did not sign the law until the Justice Department came up with a solution (National, 2008). The strategy of a signing statement attached by Johnson to the bill was also practised by current United States President George W.

Bush in later years as Chief Executive (National, 2008). In its basic essence, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) basically affirmed the right of the public to have access to records of the Federal government (Freedom Info, 2006). The premise of the law is that all government agencies in the Government is responsible for the consequences for its conduct and the public has the right to be kept abreast of the events resulting from those actions (Encarta, 2008).

The citizens usually want to voice out this sentiment, that the public should be justified in their want for the government to be under the tightest scrutiny (Dr. Philip Doty, 2000). While there is no specific instance in the United States Constitution, the assertion is that the FOIA finds it basis in the concept of “the sovereignty and self-rule of the citizenry (Doty, 2000). The actions of Johnson had highlighted some of the consistent policies of government (Tony Blanton, 2006). The government wasn’t fond of people looking into its affairs (Blanton, 2006).

The participants then were then US Representative Donald Rumsfeld and former White House official and Johnson Press Secretary (Source Watch, 2008) Bill Moyers (Blanton, 2006). President Johnson signed the document with the view that with the enactment of the bill, American society will be more open and the right of the people to be informed is upheld and enshrined (Bill Moyers, 2002). But as Moyers reveals, what was seen was not the complete picture (Moyers, 2002). Moyers (2002) reveals that Johnson had to be literally pulled and dragged into signing the law (Moyers, 2002).

According to Moyers (2002), Johnson loathed the idea of the press rummaging through the files and closets of the Administration (Moyers, 2002). Johnson, in effect, hated that the act would change the current and accepted view of what was real (Moyers, 2002). Johnson went so far as to threaten the law with his powers of a pocket veto, in effect challenging some of the provisions of the law (Source Watch, 2008). The bill was finally passed only through the efforts of a skilled and determined Congressman from California, Democrat John Moss (Blanton, 2006).

But before could become the champion of the people’s right to know, he was under intense scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Michael Doyle, 2001). The late Congressman from Sacramento seemed to possess an uncanny ability to irritate the former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover (Doyle, 2001). The FBI had noted that in 1956, Moss made an inquiry with the Justice Department about the press ban in Federal Bureau of investigation educational facilities for agents in the Southern United States teaching civil rights (Doyle, 2001).