National Public Radio is the latest media organization to reject President Obama's notion that Osama bin Laden's postmortem photograph belongs exclusively to the White House. The radio network announced today it will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the materials taken during the military raid in Pakistan.
"Pictures of Osama bin Laden and other images from that mission would have compelling news value and public interest," said Dick Meyer, executive editor for news at NPR. "I can foresee circumstances or arguments that would lead us to refrain from publishing the images if we were to get them, but NPR should be in a position to make that decision and not simply accept the government's action."
The network's challenge to a Democratic White House may surprise some critics of NPR, who depict it as a reflexively liberal institution. In filing the FOIA request, NPR joins the ranks of Judicial Watch and Citizens United, two conservative advocacy groups, and three other news outlets: Fox News, Politico and The Associated Press.
The government has 20 days to respond to the FOIA request. After that, the organizations may sue the administration to release the photo and video evidence. Are the organizations willing to pay the legal fees to unearth the materials? One of them is. "We have our FOIA request in and we'll sue to enforce it," Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton told The Atlantic Wire. Fitton said his conservative watchdog group has filed over 300 FOIA requests and went to court for more than three dozen of them. "FOIA is what we do."
First Amendment legal correspondent Tony Mauro said the decision to release the materials will "inevitably be fought out" in federal court and the "outlook is less than certain" for what will happen. However he quotes Dan Metcalfe, who headed the Justice Department's office of information and privacy, who's rather bullish on the likelihood of a FOIA succeeding. "I think in time the photos will have to be released, regardless of President Obama’s present inclinations.”