Opinion: Attorney General Should Not Have Access to a Publication’s Records


Media by Emma Tyulyayev

Though Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s request to access private records doesn’t come as a shock, it is not typical for politicians to request such access. The legality of his request remains a question on everyone’s mind.

While professors at Mizzou University’s (MU) Journalism school were preparing for their typical 8 a.m. lectures, Attorney General Eric Schmitt was preparing an unprecedented attempt to reinstate the principle of prior review. Prior review or restraint occurs when materials are read and reviewed by an executive prior to being made available to the public.

Though this isn’t Schmitt’s first attack on journalists, the Columbia Missourian (MU’s newspaper) is his latest victim.

Schmitt filed an open records request on Friday, Sept. 2, to access email communication between the university paper and Aaron Sharockman,executive director of Polifact, which is a non-partisan fact-checker.

The only explanation for Schmitt to feel like he has to investigate the Missourian is him being upset with possible criticism of him within the paper. However, Schmitt’s feelings do not matter more than journalists’ freedom to report without censorship.

The Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) allows for requests of private information; however, Schmitt’s actions are unprecedented. FOIA is typically utilized in times of crisis, urgency or safety, not a politician’s fear of accountability.

David Kurpius, dean at the University of Missouri’s Journalism School, said they will comply with the request, but not give Schmitt records that have legal protections that are warranted. But protection of certain records doesn’t defer from the fact that such an exchange shouldn’t be happening in the first place.

In 1971’s landmark case New York Times Co. v. United States, which unestablished prior restraint, Justice L. Hugo Black argued that “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” Since then, the precedent has held its ground.

So, for Schmitt to throw such concrete practices out the window on account of anger is ridiculous. However, it is not out of the ordinary for our Attorney General.

From Schmitt suing numerous school districts in Missouri to halt their mask mandate policies at the beginning of this year, to his most recent skipping of the Senate debate in Missouri, Schmitt has been doing everything but his job.

With the general election approaching this November, Schmitt shouldn’t worry about criticism in the media, rather, he should work on campaigning, canvassing and convincing Missourians to vote for him. Otherwise, his actions as of late will deter many. I sure am deterred.

To anyone that will be voting in the upcoming general election on Nov 8 know this: a vote for Schmitt is a vote for a censored press and an overall muddled Missouri.