James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Don’t bother to ask; they won’t bother to tell: FOIA and other Bush-league presidential stats

Posted by James McPherson on December 8, 2008

A lot of people want answers from and about the Bush administration. Most of those question probably will go unanswered.

ProPublica’s Kristen Jones offers some numbers on the George W. Bush presidency, and invites readers to contribute other meaningful stats. One of the most depressing stats for me was that Freedom of Information Act requests increased almost tenfold, from 2.2 million in 2000 to 21.8 million in 2007, thanks largely to a combination of war, corruption and secrecy (my conclusion, not Jones’)–but the number of people available to respond to those requests actually dropped by nine, to 5,367.

Considering it took more than two years and the intervention of a U.S. Senator to get my FOIA request for information from the FBI about an anti-nuclear activist granted several years ago, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that my later request for more information apparently disappeared altegether. (I decided to work on something else, instead–and maybe that was the point of the repeated delays, though I suspect it’s a combination of too much work and too little interest on the part of those in the bureaucracy.)

There are a number of non-surprising statistical lowlights. Bush has been bad for the economy and the environment. The number of federal contracts went up, but the percentage of contracts open to competitive bids dropped from 44 percent to 33 percent. Investigation of white-collar crimes dropped dramatically, as did FDA concerns about pharmaceutical advertising law violations. The number of illegal immigrants deported tripled, however.

In an apparent attempt to look more Reaganesque, Bush bought his Texas ranch just before running for president, so it also may be surprising that Bush has already managed to spend far more time on his ranch than Reagan did as president (483 days to 335). Think how much more damage he might have done if he hadn’t spent more than 15 percent of his presidency in Texas. Barack Obama wouldn’t have time to reverse it all–assuming he wants to do so, of course, which isn’t certain, considering his appointments and apparent war policy thus far.

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2 Responses to “Don’t bother to ask; they won’t bother to tell: FOIA and other Bush-league presidential stats”

  1. […] thinks more information is better than less information (prompting my regular critiques of the Bush administration’s secrecy and sneakiness) sometimes we’d be better off if more often we just told more […]

  2. […] weigh in about Saberi’s guilt or innocence–and neither can anyone else, because of the secrecy and obvious political bias […]

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