Osama Bin Laden Death Photos Still Secret Despite Freedom of Information Act Attempts


When President Barack Obama decided he would not make pictures of a dead Osama Bin Laden public for fear of inciting violence by “spiking the football,” a handful of enterprising journalists went the legal route to campaign for their release. By filing Freedom of Information Act requests, publications like the AP and Politico argued that under U.S. press laws some materials from the raid, specifically photos and video, should be handed over in the interest of government transparency. So far, the requests have been unsuccessful, hitting road blocks right away. Now, the Pentagon is predictably opting not to expedite the process, as can be demanded in cases where official information is “urgently needed by an individual primarily engaged in disseminating information in order to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity.” There’s more in an update from the AP in our daily media column Press Clips. Plus: additional responses to the Times‘ anti-Twitter rant by Bill Keller and Katie Couric’s final guest.

High Hurdles: The AP reported yesterday that they filed an appeal with the Defense Department arguing “that unnecessary bureaucratic delays harm the public interest and allow anonymous U.S. officials to selectively leak details of the May 2 mission that resulted in bin Laden’s death.”

The AP has asked under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to review a range of materials, such as contingency plans for bin Laden’s capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the mission and copies of DNA tests confirming the al-Qaida leader’s identity. The AP also has asked for video and photographs taken from the mission, including photos made of bin Laden after he was killed.

The AP had asked that the Defense Department quickly consider its request under a legal provision known as expedited processing, which dramatically shortens the amount of time the government takes in such cases. Without expedited processing, requests for sensitive materials can be delayed for months and even years. The AP submitted its request to the Pentagon less than one day after bin Laden’s death.

The AP highlights “President Barack Obama’s pledge to be the most transparent and accountable in American history,” though if this case is any indication, that’s not exactly coming to fruition. And unfortunately, it’s far from the only example.

You’re Grounded: Yesterday we were so flabbergasted by the media chatter online that eventually every response to New York Times executive editor Bill Keller’s new column — about the evils of technology and Twitter in particular — looked like it was typed in Wingdings. (Get it, Bill?)

But with a clear head, a read of Alex Leo’s retort at Reuters, entitled “Bill Keller’s war on the Internet keeps the Times down,” proved to be interesting, especially because it ended on this interesting tidbit relating to the ongoing war between the Times and the Huffington Post that has been bubbling much of the year. Leo writes:

While having brunch with an ex-Times employee in January she said to me “we weren’t allowed to read the Huffington Post–they say it’s the least reliable source on the Internet.” That summed it up for me: We don’t like their content model so we’re going to ignore what they’re doing right. The hermetic nature of the Times just doesn’t work for a web company, and in the juxtaposition to the Huffington Post, nothing becomes clearer. If Keller had embraced the nature and demands of the Web five years ago, the Huffington Post may not be as big as it is today.

Now, “weren’t allowed” could be hyperbolic language, but it doesn’t do anything to dissuade the growing anti-Keller bias online, which paints him as a sour schoolmarm obsessed with protecting his lawn, as it were.

Over and Out: Powerful women of the world, unite and take over! (But maybe not at CBS.) Katie Couric will host host her last edition of CBS Evening News tonight, ending her run as the first woman to host an evening broadcast solo, by fittingly interviewing Hillary Clinton. Tina Brown will presumably be watching.