Time's Steinmetz Grouses About Way Alaska Governor Released Palin E-mails

Perhaps peeved that her weekend was wasted on the nothing-burger that was the release of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's official e-mail correspondence, Time magazine's Katy Steinmetz yesterday directed her ire at current Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) for dumping the e-mails on reporters in cumbersome printed form rather than in electronic files:


The amount of money the state of Alaska and news organizations are spending on the Sarah Palin e-mails — copying costs, shipping costs (or flight costs), man-hour costs, and opportunity costs — should inspire some skull-clutching. It’s all the more extravagant considering how much of the content has been redacted, how old the e-mails are and how long the government of Palin loyalist Sean Parnell had to cut out the juicy bits. But the whole fiasco could have been streamlined if Parnell’s people embraced the spirit of the state’s public records law and provided electronic copies of the e-mails rather than printing them out. 


The Alaskan public records code recommends doing the opposite of what the governor’s office decided to do, though it doesn’t command it (emphasis mine):


A public agency may provide electronic services and products involving public records to members of the public. A public agency is encouraged to make information available in usable electronic formats to the greatest extent feasible.


So why, one might ask, did the Alaskan government turn thousands of e-mails into paper records, which news organizations have been busy scanning back into electronic form?

Steinmetz quickly laid out her conspiracy theory that Gov. Parnell pursued this method of release just to stick it to reporters (emphasis mine):

Looking to the letter of the law, it’s hard to imagine anyone bold enough to argue that it was more “feasible” for the government workers to print and copy all these e-mails than to leave them in electronic form. It was, however, much, much more costly for everyone involved. And this logical conundrum pushes us toward a more cynical answer: that they turned them into paper copies simply because they could.


Public records guru Charles Davis, an associate professor at the University of Missouri, imagines the mentality thus: “We’re going to produce paper records, and the paper’s going to cost you more money, it’s going to take up more physical space, and it’s going to be less useful to you. But that’s what the law says we can do, so we’ll do it.”


Though the process wasn’t Sarah Palin’s call, it does fall in line with her make-the-media-earn-it mentality. Palin declined to provide the press with a schedule of stops during her recent bus tour and told Greta Van Susteren that the media should “have to do a little bit of work.” It seems Parnell has taken that page out of the Palin playbook.

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