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This page contains a single entry by Westley Annis published on March 24, 2008 10:23 PM.

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Landrieu Stands Up for La. Newspapers in FEMA

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WASHINGTON - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be more responsive to Louisiana journalists' inquiries into its disaster response practices, United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., wrote today. Her column, entitled "Let the Sunshine In," was published on the website of the Poynter Institute, a leading training center and think tank for journalists and media issues.

"Open government is a tenet of our Democracy, and accountability is never more important than in times of crisis," Sen. Landrieu wrote. "Only by shining the light of public scrutiny on the government's mistakes can we take steps to prevent them from repeating."

The Senator highlighted the challenges faced by reporters at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Baton Rouge Advocate following requests to FEMA under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Times-Picayune request, filed two-and-a-half years ago by Pulitzer prizewinning reporter Mark Schleifstein, has yet to be fulfilled. The Advocate was recently told that meeting their request would cost nearly $210,000. Only after the paper drew front page attention to the lack of cooperation did FEMA indicate willingness to work with the Advocate on resolving the issue.

"Today, after their hefty price tag was exposed on the Advocate's front page, FEMA now appears to have opened the door a crack to cooperation," Sen. Landrieu wrote. "Let's hope it swings wide - for the Advocate, Mark Schleifstein and others in pursuit of the truth.

"The catastrophic hurricanes and levee failures of 2005 left a lot of unanswered questions and lessons yet to be learned as we prepare for future disasters. These lessons are far too important to leave in the shadows."

Sen. Landrieu's column comes during "Sunshine Week," a national initiative created by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to spotlight the importance of open government and freedom of information. President Bush recently signed into law the OPEN Government Act, which Sen. Landrieu sponsored with Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill restores meaningful deadlines for agencies to respond to FOIA requests, and among other key reforms, sets up hotlines and an ombudsman's office to aid requesters. In addition, she is working to pass legislation to shield journalists from undue prosecution for protecting whistleblowers, and has introduced a bill to ensure local officials determine media credentialing in a disaster.

The full text of Sen. Landrieu's column is attached below, and is published on PoynterOnline at


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