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Official vs. Unofficial Government Information: DoD version

Steven Aftergood reports on a new Defense Dept policy designed to regulate Pentagon interactions with the news media.

  • SecDef Defends New Policy on Limiting Media Access, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, (July 9th, 2010)

    …[I]t seems practically certain that the new guidance will significantly impede the flow of information to the press and will complicate the already difficult task of probing beneath the official surface of events.

    The Gates memorandum seems to reflect a view of the press as a conduit for “official government positions” that are “authorized” and placed “in proper context.” But everyone knows that the most interesting and important news stories often begin with unofficial and unauthorized statements that are lacking in context and may even be inaccurate. It is the reporter’s job to validate them, assess their significance, place them in context and communicate them, and if the results appear “before I or the White House know anything about them,” so much the better.

Although one of the main roles of the Federal Depository Library Program is to preserve and make accessible the official record of the U.S. Federal Government, there is an additional value in the digital age to having these records in libraries and not only in the control of government agencies. Government agencies are limited by policy, law, and, as Aftergood points out, inclination, to control and manage information. Having digital collections in libraries that include official and unofficial government information brings context, perspective, richness, and completeness to the public record. This complementary record makes it easier for citizens, scholars, reporters, and historians to understand and evaluate the raw information.

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