WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy has apologized for mistakenly sending Washington television reporter Scott MacFarlane an internal email plotting ways to dodge the reporter’s Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to September’s Navy Yard mass shooting.
MacFarlane, an investigative reporter for NBC 4 in Washington, in December requested memos drafted by Naval Sea Systems Command officials shortly after the Sept. 16 shooting, along with photos of Navy Yard building 197, where the gunman fatally shot 12 people.
In an email intended for internal distribution, Robin Patterson, the Navy's FOIA public liaison, outlined strategies to thwart MacFarlane’s requests, which she called "another ‘fishing expedition.’”
“Recommend that you provide the requester with an estimate, as I can see the search and review, possible redactions, will be very costly,” Patterson wrote in the Jan. 2 email. “This may encourage the requester to 'narrow the scope.' Again another 'fishing expedition' -- just because they are media doesn't mean that the memos would shed light on specific government activities.”
Patterson went through each of MacFarlane's inquiries, strategizing reasons for rejecting the investigative reporter's requests:
DON2014F-0387: this one is specific enough that we may be able to deny. However, I want to talk with the FBI, as they may have all emails during that time, in their possession.
MacFarlane posted a screenshot of the email to Twitter on Tuesday, calling the Navy's blunder an “EPIC FAILURE.”
Navy administrator Steve Muck apologized to MacFarlane in an email, according to NBC News. The Navy also apologized via Twitter on Tuesday, affirming its commitment to the FOIA and “its vital role in providing transparency to the American public.”