As “The Few, The Proud,” the Marines deserve their reputation with the press as mostly quick to respond with facts to a query — be it on Iraq, Afghanistan, the V-22 Osprey or Hurricane Sandy assistance.
But when it comes to singer Beyonce Knowles-Carter they seem to have a warm and fuzzy mother instinct to protect her — in this case with a heavy-handed use of the Freedom of Information Act’s privacy exemption — the so-called “(B)(6)” — this being the same Beyonce drawing headlines for bawdy bodysuits on tour.
Our FOIA saga began Jan. 23 when we submitted a request for all e-mails concerning the mini-flap over whether she did or did not lip-sync the National Anthem at President Barack Obama’s second-term Inaugural ceremony.
We asked for all documents and e-mails generated between Jan. 21 and 23 — when “Syncgate ” broke — among the Marine Corps Band, Marine Headquarters PA, the White House and Beyonce’s public relations team. And we did learn how concerned they were about it all — they figured they could beat it if they “hunkered down.”
We were looking for insight into the situation to include the back and forth after an initial Marine Band statement that confirmed she lip-synced and a later one that backed off. We figured there must have been some rich back and forth — maybe even from the West Wing.
Recall that Obama issued a FOIA policy memo in 2009 directing that “all agencies should adopt a presumption in a favor of disclosure.”
We got 172 pages.
The e-mails started in mid-December with back and forth about musical arrangements for the Inaugural ceremony and after the 22nd the lip-sync fallout. They make for mostly non-fascinating reading.
Except for the Marine Corps cover letter to yours truly answering our request, not once was Beyonce’s name mentioned on any single page — not even in reprints of statements initially released to the press that had mentioned her.
Instead, Beyonce was ‘(B)(6)’d.
The exemption “prohibits disclosure of personal information when an individual’s privacy interest outweighs any public interest,” we were told in the letter.
The Department of Justice official FOIA Guide says (B)(6) is designed to safeguard information about individuals “in personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
It quotes a District of Columbia Circuit opinion that directs FOIA professionals to analyze disclosure options because under Exemption 6 “the presumption in favor of disclosure is as strong as can be found anywhere in the Act.”
There didn’t seem to be much analysis at the Marine FOIA office, however.
For example: A Marine spokesperson in January initially released a public statement that said: “We don’t know why Beyonce decided to use prerecorded music,” adding that, while the Marine Band performed live, “we received last-minute word that Beyonce wanted to use the recording.”
The same paragraphs in the emails we received said , “We don’t know why “(B(6)” decided to use prerecorded music…”
Then there was the later statement the Marines issued saying, “The Presidential Inaugural Committee requested the Marine Band accompany Beyonce Knowles-Carter in the performance of the Star Spangled Banner…”
The FOIA-released emails contained the once-public statement, but “Beyonce Knowles-Carter” was “(b)(6)’d” — you get the picture.
This goes on for many of the 172 pages released where Beyonce is clearly mentioned.
Our Jan. 23 request to Marine Corps spokesman Captain Greg Wolf asking for the phone number and email of the Marine FOIA office was similarly redacted with a (B)(6).
Still, our request did generate some buzz, according to a released e-mail.
Wrote one “(B)(6)”d Marine communicator: “I’ve just taken a quick look through the e-mails and think we are fine even if we have to turn them over. They all support our statement (funny how the truth works, isn’t it?) ” The aide continued: “And I don’t see anything else embarrassing other than a few comments about the challenges of the situation. Because some of the emailing happened from work and some from my laptop, it will be a bit of a logistical challenge to put them together but I’m sure we can figure something out.”
The harried Marine PA staff got some good news Jan. 23, according to another e-mail: “Just need everyone to stay hunkered down for another 24 hours. We have a bona-fide breaking news piece tomorrow that will knock this one off of Drudge.”
Guess they forgot to put a (B)(6) on The Drudge Report.
So now Drudge, where the lip-sync story played well, is having some fun of its own.