On December 3, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 99-494 proclaiming 1987 “The Year of the Reader.” The blatant hypocrisy of that act was clear throughout 1987 as the Reagan administration outdid itself in its efforts to control, interpret, manipulate, disinform, and censor all forms of information.
Typical of the Reagan administration’s efforts to control its own destiny and the nation’s history was the Justice Department memorandum filed in a lawsuit that could enable Reagan to control the history of his involvement in the Iran/contra scandal. The administration is seeking to overturn a 1986 Federal court ruling which limited Nixon’s right to block the release of his White House papers. The Justice Department memorandum would allow Nixon to withdraw any documentation he thought should be suppressed. In effect, Nixon would be in control of U.S. history between 1968 and 1974. If Nixon wins, it will pave the way for Reagan to control U.S. history from 1980 to 1988.
While alarming, this is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Reagan’s mania for secrecy. Following are just three groups that tried to warn us about what was happening; the nation’s leading press didn’t think their stories were that important.
PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY — A report titled “Government Secrecy: Decisions Without Democracy,” published in December 1987, provides more than 100 pages of well-documented charges about the growing secrecy system and its dangers to American democracy. The report “tells the story of the institutionalization of secrecy throughout the federal government … the story of unprecedented controls on information, not only on defense and foreign policy issues where legitimate secrets do need to be protected but on a host of topics vital to our daily lives, from toxic wastes to occupational hazards, from new technology to the health of our children.”
THE REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS — In March, 1987, the Reporters Committee issued a “FYI Media Alert” about how the Reagan administration and its supporters restrict public and media access to government information and intrude on editorial freedom. The 50-page report, retroactive to March 1981, lists 135 specific actions, including threatened prosecution of the press for publishing classified information; expulsion of foreign journalists; proposed restrictive amendments to the Freedom of Information Act; proposed and actual use of lie detectors, and many other cases.
THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION — The ALA released its 1987 updated “Less Access to Less Information By and About the U.S. Government: IX,” covering 1987. The chronology, which was started in 1981, provides a damning indictment of Reagan administration efforts to “restrict and privatize government information” which has led to significantly limited access to public documents and statistics. The new 1987 report adds 30 pages and 78 specific items to the case for Reagan’s mania for secrecy.
THE NATION, 5/23/87, “History Deleted,” pp 669-670; GOVERNMENT DECISIONS WITHOUT DEMOCRACY, December 1987, by People For The American Way, pp 1-104+; FYI MEDIA ALERT 1987, March 1987, “The Reagan Administration & The News Media,” by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, pp 1-50; THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, Washington Office, “Less Access to Less Information By and About the U.S. Government: IX,” December 1987, by Anne A. Heanue.