Commentary on “SPJ Calls on Attorney General To Uphold Government’s Media Guidelines”

Bruce Ruston of the Illinois Times commented on our post “SPJ Calls on Attorney General To Uphold Government’s Media Guidelines.” We wanted to share his thoughts with our readers:


I have been invited to start blogging here, and so I will. My purpose is to prod the SPJ into taking stronger action to fix Illinois’ awful public-records statute. The recently concluded legislative session was, in my view, an utter failure for advocates of open government. The alleged FOIA reforms pushed through a few years ago have proven ineffective. In short, things are getting worse while thumbs twiddle.

I had a frank exchange with a couple of SPJ officers this morning via email. In their view, SPJ has taken action by setting up a website and getting grants and meeting with public officials. In my view, that is not enough, not nearly enough.

I have called on the SPJ to rescind the Sunshine Award given to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The officers of the state SPJ chapter have rejected this idea. Instead, they tell me, we should be patient. They have also accused me of attacking Madigan for political reasons. That is not the case, but I suppose when you’re looking for reasons to keep thumbs twiddling, you’ll say darn near anything.

My hope here is to engage the membership in a frank and open discussion on how to address shortcomings in FOIA. It is my view that the only realistic means is to pressure elected officials and policy makers, starting with the attorney general, and it is my belief that the most effective way to get the message through is to rescind her award. Politicians understand that sort of thing. Anything less gets lost.

It is also my view that the best way to move SPJ in the right direction here is to withhold financial support. I first made this proposal to rescind the award in 2010, speaking with SPJ officers on both the state and national level. Since then, I believe that things have gotten worse, and I see no evidence that SPJ is willing to change the present timid course. And so I believe that we should boycott the SPJ. Don’t enter SPJ contests, don’t renew SPJ memberships, don’t give SPJ any money for anything whatsoever. Talk is cheap. Money matters. Anything less gets lost.

Anyone who supports rescinding Madigan’s award will be attacked by those who say they favor open government. I know, because it has happened to me. You will be accused of being a Republican lackey. You’ll be called a crackpot. And worse. But ask yourself: Do you think that Lisa Madigan deserves your seal of approval–because that’s what this award is–for ending secrecy in Illinois?

Anyone wanting more information about this issue should contact me via email — I’m easy to find, just Google a bit. And thanks for listening.

Bruce Rushton
Illinois Times
Springfield, IL