Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

June 2015

Can you keep a secret? Better yet, can I keep a secret?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) describes the portal open for those wanting to know how to get what they want from those who would rather not give it. Federal information, that is. The law, enacted in 1966, describes how to get information kept by federal departments.

There’s a ton of other protocols applicable to state and local government information, public corporations, nonprofits, and student council meeting minutes.

Just to complicate things a bit, exceptions at every level allow those with information the right not to share it. There are seven exemptions. Seven is an often used number: days of the week, sacraments, veils, TD + PAT (that’s touchdown plus point after touchdown), deadly sins, wonders of the world, and like that.

Secrecy is the top exemption, “top secret” being the tippy-top reason to deny a FOIA request. For whatever it’s worth, information gained through a FOIA request is seldom free. Sometimes just to have a request denied can cost a fee — the no-free-lunch syndrome.

What about personal right of privacy? So — listen to Fed chair Janet Yellin as a demonstration of the effectiveness of using “So” to begin a sentence — say a cop stops you. The police are clearly entitled to see your license, registration, and proof of insurance. After that, you’re on your own. For instance, if asked where you are going, my bet is you are even allowed to lie, although why do that? After giving the required response, you are pretty much on your own.

Here’s a good one. Years ago, I’m having a beer with an old high school chum and he tells me that a guy told him about participating in a gangland murder. “Geez!” I say, “You need to tell the police.”

The color drained from his face and he said, “What are you, nuts? Don’t ever tell anyone I ever said that.” Right. I didn’t tell anyone for, like, 50 years but now I just did. So — that segue-word again — some smarty cold-file detective wants to talk to me about it. What do you think? I am a journalist; I protect my sources, right?

Wait a minute, Judith Miller went to jail. OMG! I meant to say, “So, suppose years ago ...”