FCC FOIA Request in Official Limbo

It’s been nearly three months since I last heard from the Federal Communications Commission about the agency’s determinations on the journalistic legitimacy of a news organization I founded more than a decade ago.
For those just tuning in: earlier this year, the FCC fined a Chicago radio station more than $40,000 for airing newscasts produced by Workers Independent News. The FCC, in historically unprecedented fashion, categorized WIN as something other than journalism and admonished the offending station for deceiving its listeners.
I filed a FOIA request to get a sense of just how the FCC came to this determination, and what the implications of its decision might be on other independent media outlets seeking public access to the airwaves. The FCC, to put it mildly, has been less than helpful.
After first badgering me in an attempt to reduce the scope of my FOIA request, the FCC attorneys basically went into stonewall-mode. Although I extended their deadlines to respond to my inquiry (so as to keep it “in play,” in their words), I never received any meaningful information about the FCC’s beef with Workers Independent News. I still don’t even know just how many documents my FOIA request has unearthed. My last communication with the agency was on August 25th, wherein FCC attorneys offered up vagaries and requested an indefinite deadline to respond to my request. I asked them to commit to a hard deadline, and never heard from them again.
In the interim, the staff in a few Midwestern Congressfolks’ offices continue to needle the FCC about the status of the FOIA request, but they’re getting no joy, either. The only formal response to these inquries was tendered way back in May, when the agency basically denied any wrongdoing and told Capitol Hill (in very diplomatic terms) to kiss its ass.
I’ve updated my briefing paper on this case to reflect the timeline through the now-stalled FOIA request. WIN’s options are now fairly limited: we can file for an expedited review—which the FCC would most likely deny, based on its previous excuses and rationales—or we can file a civil suit in Federal court to compel the agency to respond. Typically, such a maneuver lights a fire under agencies, as it’s ultimately more cost-effective to do what the law asks of them then to fight a rear-guard action in court.
The problem is finding attorneys well-versed in FCC administrative law and FOIA law who are willing to take a case pro bono. The stakes are high enough here to generate some interest, but no commitments.
Thus it would seem the FCC’s troubling boundary-setting regarding the legimacy of radio news will be allowed to stand thanks to bureaucratic inertia. Meanwhile, right-wing organizations, including those fueled by dark money, continue to build out a robust network of “news organizations,” focusing primarily at the state level and making vast inroads into both broadcast and print journalism. Fred Clarkson, a fellow at Political Research Associates, calls this campaign “a corrupt enterprise using the façade of journalism to carry out a political agenda.” It would seem that, in today’s media environment, the faker your news is, the more credible you are.