The Washington Post used an open records request to obtain Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s registration card for the State Bar of Texas, publishing the card with her signature showing she identified herself as American Indian.
In an article titled “Elizabeth Warren apologizes for calling herself Native American,” the Washington Post reported that the senator apologized for identifying as a member if the Cherokee Nation.
The report came in the wake of a recent apology to Bill John Baker, chief of the Cherokee Nation, expressing her regret for sharing results of a DNA test showing she had a distant American Indian relative.
She told the Post: “I can’t go back. But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”
Here’s a video about the latest report.
This post is not about the embarrassing, hurtful claim; that’s evident in assuming an identity that is not genuine. Rather, this shows the power of fact-based journalism in using open records to verify false claims and hold public figures accountable.
Living Media Ethics (Routledge 2019) has a section dedicated to the Freedom of Information Act. Here’s an excerpt.
One of the “power tools” for journalists is the Freedom of Information Act, signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. Government entities often resist FOIA requests for information “by either refusing to provide properly requested records or ignoring the requirements that the documents be made available within specified time periods,” according to the FOIA Project, funded in part by Syracuse University. If a FOIA request is denied, the Freedom of Information Act allows reporters and news organizations to sue. The New York Times filed some 36 federal FOIA lawsuits in the past 16 years. David McCraw, The Times’ vice president and assistant general counsel, states: “Simply, we feel that using this law is an essential part of our mission.”
Use of FOIA requests attests to the ethics of fact-based journalism as practiced routinely by news organizations like the Washington Post and New York Times.
The U.S. Department of Justice explains on its website and in the video below how to file such a request.
A FOIA request can be made for any agency record; moreover, you can specify the format that you prefer to receive the record, printed or electronic.