This week, March 11-17, is Sunshine Week 2018, brought to you by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The week is set aside each year to focus on the cleansing nature of conducting the government’s business in bright sunlight rather than under a shroud of secrecy.
As those in the media continue to be treated with contempt by President Donald Trump and many of his supporters, it’s instructive to review the words some leaders have used in serious comments about the importance of information and truth as checks on government and politics.
The quotes in this column were aggregated by freedominfo.org, a website devoted to freedom of information advocates, such as journalists.
Here’s a quote from President Woodrow Wilson:
“Government ought to be all outside and no inside. ... Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.”
The words embody the importance of the watchdog role played by the media, which seeks to uncover those secret places where corruption can thrive.
Here’s a quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis:
“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.”
This use of the term “sunlight” is particularly apt in this, Sunshine Week. Spotlighting problems and questionable behaviors helps the public make better decisions.
In the following quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made in a radio Fireside Chat comes the recognition that government is the servant of the people and not the other way around:
“The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of its people, and a people strong enough and well informed enough to maintain its sovereign control over its government.”
Here’s the view of another former president, John F. Kennedy:
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.”
And here’s the view of another U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart:
“… the only effective restraint upon executive policy in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry — in an informed and critical public opinion, which alone can here protect the values of democratic government.”
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is known for his candor, as evidenced by this quote about keeping secrets:
“One of the things that almost never works is secrecy — particularly secrecy in defense of dumbness.”
One of the favorite insulting names employed by President Trump is “loser,” which makes this quote from former Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Moynihan interesting in this political climate:
“Secrecy is for losers…. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most persuasive of Cold War-era regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness that is already upon us.”
Finally, here are two closing quotes from U.S. journalists:
“Power corrupts, and there is nothing more corrupting than power exercised in secret.” — Daniel Schorr.
“Secrecy is the freedom zealots dream of: no watchman to check the door, no accountant to check the books, no judge to check the law. The secret government has no Constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up.” — Bill Moyers.
Here’s hoping you have a sunny and open Sunshine Week, and insist on government officials who recognize the important of openness and accountability.