Here’s something out of left field (literally) and almost too good to be true, but it really is. Get this: 17 news organizations, including NPR, WaPo, AP, now have grown a spine and filed an amicus brief (see download below) to OPPOSE in court Michael Mann’s effort to keep his UVa CLIMATEGATE-related e-mails secret.
Basically, Mann’s attempt at hiding his emails of work done on public funds and time from public view has backfired, and now is a story that has “legs” in reporter parlance. From Columbia Journalism Review:
Strange bedfellows: ‘Climate change deniers, newspapers partner in a FOIA fight’
Public information laws have forged an unlikely team in Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann’s quest to keep his emails private
‘Organized by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 17 news organizations, including National Public Radio, Dow Jones, and The Washington Post, submitted an amicus brief in November, supporting the group’s rights to Mann’s emails.
A verdict is expected soon in one of Mann’s cases, a trial winding through the Virginia courts that, oddly, pits him against the interests of the press. Mann is challenging the American Traditions Institute in court—it has since changed its name to the less charged “Energy & Environment Legal Institute”—after the group attempted to obtain access to his email through a FOIA request. Mann argues that his emails constitute “proprietary information,” a special exemption granted to research institutions under Virginia state law. But after an appellate court issued a strong finding, broadly defining “proprietary information” in a way that would make almost any university document—and potentially government documents—exempt from public release, the press took notice.
“By defining an exemption to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (‘VFOIA’) as broadly as the lower court has done, this Court Would be, in effect, removing almost all public documents from the ambit of the records law,” reads the brief. By exempting Mann’s emails from public release, the group argues, the court is setting what journalists see as a dangerous precedent—making it much more difficult to gain access to public records.’
Here is the page that defines the interest, note the list of heavy hitters.
Basically what has happened is that journalists are afraid that if Mann wins, it will set a legal precedent that will be used to restrict the ability of the press in future issues where work products and emails discussing research are needed for journalist investigations, but will be made off limits. So, they are going to throw Mann under the bus to keep their FOIA ability intact.
IMHO, the Mann’s days are numbered as a hero of the climate movement.
Read the amicus brief for yourself: ATI-v-UVA-RCFP-amicus (PDF)
ADDED: And it’s a strange place now for some news outlets to find themselves in, particularly the Washington Post. This (absurdly detached) blast from the past below reminds us how these outlets may act out with their editorial positions, but these aren’t always harmonious with their lesser-advertised legal postures. (h/t to Chris Horner of ATI who’s been fighting this fight for a very long time.)