Getting Information the Easy Way

You may have been following the Jack Anderson files story covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education. An essay in the Washington Post adds one academic’s experience being questioned by the FBI.

Mark Feldstein makes at least two interesting points. First, the government’s willingness to share information with the public is inversely correlated to their desire to obtain it from us; no surprise there. Second, the feebs could use a crash course in information literacy.

The agents said they are investigating espionage involving two indicted lobbyists for the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and they wanted me to tell them the names of former Jack Anderson reporters who were pro-Israel in their views or who had pro-Israeli sources… I tried to explain to the agents why it was extremely unlikely there could be anything in our files relevant to their criminal case: Jack Anderson had been sick with Parkinson’s disease since 1986 and had done very little original investigative reporting after that.

If the agents had done even rudimentary research, they would have known that. The fact that they didn’t was disturbing, because it suggested that the bureau viewed reporters’ notes as the first stop in a criminal investigation rather than as a last step reluctantly taken only after all other avenues have failed. That’s the standard the FBI is supposed to use under Justice Department guidelines designed to protect media freedom.

Note to Special Agents everywhere: If information literacy isn’t part of the curriculum at the FBI Academy, just stop by a library. We’ll show you how it works. And you won’t even need a warrant.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

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