The news media are powerful players in the world of government transparency and public accountability. One important tool for ensuring public accountability is through invoking transparency mandates provided by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In 2020, news organizations and individual reporters filed 122 different FOIA suits to compel disclosure of federal government records—more than any year on record according to federal court data back to 2001 analyzed by the FOIA Project.
In fact, the media alone have filed a total of 386 FOIA cases during the four years of the Trump Administration, from 2017 through 2020. This is greater than the total of 311 FOIA media cases filed during the sixteen years of the Bush and Obama Administrations combined. Moreover, many of these FOIA cases were the very first FOIA cases filed by members of the news media. Almost as many new FOIA litigators filed their first case in court in the past four years—178 from 2017 to 2020—than the years 2001 to 2016, when 196 FOIA litigators filed their first case. Reporters made up the majority of these. During the past four years, more than four out of five of first-time litigators were individual reporters. The ranks of FOIA litigators thus expanded considerably during the Trump Administration, with more reporters challenging agencies in court for failing to provide records they are seeking, either alone or with their news organizations.