Editorial: Fighting darkness forever

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 11:28 PM

Fighting the cloak of darkness that can envelop even the most respected of government officials never ends.

We hope to believe in all that they do. Yet, when they retreat to secrecy, we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors. How can we know? How can we trust?

We have joined journalists and publications around the state and across the nation in promoting Sunshine Week. It is a time to remind each of us, not just the media, of exactly what we are entitled to from our government.

They work for us, and their documents, their emails and their decision-making is subject to our scrutiny. The Freedom of Information Act, which gets high publicity during this time, enables every citizen — not just reporters — access to public records.

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis used the sunlight metaphor in a published article on Dec. 20, 1913, in Harper’s Weekly. He wrote, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

The 1884 writing of Woodrow Wilson, who would later become president, is also encouraging. “Light is the only thing that can sweeten our political atmosphere — light thrown upon every detail of administration in the departments; light diffused through every passage of policy; light blazed full upon every feature of legislation; light that can penetrate every recess or corner in which any intrigue might hide; light that will open to view the innermost chambers of government, drive away all darkness from the treasury vaults.”

The examples never end. They are as close as our county school board and commissioners, as near as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scandals, as controversial as Gov. Pat McCrory’s relationship with Duke Energy and coal ash spills, and as broad as National Security Agency monitoring and profiling by the IRS.

Then there’s a recent favorite, the Department of the Interior defending redaction within public record on the decision to close Mount Vernon with, “Public dissemination of this information … would expose the agency’s decision-making process in such a way as to discourage candid discussion within the agency.”

Such a response assures the quest for light should never end.