US freedom of information law was born of a national scandal.
The debate about its scope continues
Anthony Coley, Brunswick, Washington, DC
There are a few bedrock principles on which the American political system is built. Freedom is one of them. And this sacred, unalienable right is secured several ways – freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of petition, freedom of the press. After the Watergate scandal and cover-up, a fierce debate on freedom of information began. It continues nearly a generation later.
At the time, few had reason to believe President Richard Nixon was aware of, much less involved with, the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters. Private audio recordings, lawsuits, and reliable newspaper leaks that implicated Nixon soon changed that. On August 8 1974, he became the first and only US president to resign the office.
"When information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and – eventually – incapable of determining their own destinies." President Richard Nixon in 1972, two years before he resigned.
Photograph: Getty Images
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