Another day, another take on the UW-Madison e-mail saga. Here is a critical graf:
The tumult and the shouting have also obscured a second crucial point, that Freedom of Information Acts, as Cronon himself states, are precious tools of American democracy. And anyone, as the Republicans claim, has the right to invoke them. But that doesn’t mean that it is always right—ethically right, for example—to do so. Again and again in recent times, Republican operatives have used fragments snatched out of context from emails—as they have used fragments snatched out of context from recorded conversations—to smear scientists, scholars and activists of whom they disapprove. There is every reason to assume that the Wisconsin Republicans are demanding these emails not because they seek to ensure “accountable government” but because they hope to find dirt—or something they can portray as dirt. That’s not the kind of accountability that Freedom of Information Acts were written to promote.
Whoooooaaaaaa, Nelly! This is a meme often trotted out by recalcitrant county commissioners, blustery police chiefs and other Friends of Darkness: “this request is just fishing for dirt!”
No, no. If we start labeling FOI requests we like as virtuous and about accountability, and all others as “dirt,” we start down a very dark path. The more I think and read about this issue, the more I come back to my principles: it’s a public record. End of story.