Air Force determines some reporters from the Associated Press and NBC are not journalists

List of commercial requesters includes dozens of reporters and watchdog organizations, including MuckRock

Written by Shawn Musgrave
Edited by Michael Morisy

Just in time for April foolery, the Air Force has released its list of individuals classified as commercial — as opposed to media or “other” — for FOIA fee purposes. The 7,300 entries include not only patent lawyers, political operatives and Booz Allen Hamilton staffers, but also a surprising number of journalists.

To ensure that FOIA serves the public interest instead of simply underwriting industrial espionage, the federal statute classifies requesters into three categories: (i) commercial requesters; (ii) educational, scientific or news media requesters; and (iii) everyone else. Predictably, commercial requesters bear the greatest fee burden, while educational, scientific and news media representatives are charged the least.

A number of government agencies have insisted that MuckRock reporters do not qualify as journalists. Last year, the Navy argued that MuckRock’s lack of a paywall or subscription fees invalidated any claims to being treated as media. Similarly, the Air Force insists that MuckRock staffers do not qualify as media, but fall into the “commercial” category for FOIA fees.

Frustrated by such responses, MuckRock wondered whether other reporters were similarly boxed out of the press club by the Air Force FOIA office. Sure enough, the Air Force list of “commercial requesters” includes not only two MuckRock staff but also reporters from the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and many other outlets. Even reporters from the Air Force Times were deemed to fall within the commercial FOIA category.

The Air Force list includes Ted Bridis, editor of the Associated Press investigative team, NBC’s chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski and ProPublica investigative reporter T. Christian Miller, among others.

Here’s the list of newspapers, magazines and television networks whose reporters failed to make the journalist cut:

  • The Associated Press
  • The New York Times
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The Los Angeles Times
  • The Chicago Tribune
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune
  • The Seattle Times
  • The Fort Worth Star Telegram
  • The Salt Lake City Tribune
  • The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
  • The Columbia Daily Tribune
  • The Huron Daily Tribute
  • The Air Force Times
  • The Journal Record
  • Forbes magazine
  • Harpers magazine
  • Moment magazine
  • NBC News
  • ABC News
  • CBS News
  • CNN Anderson Cooper 360
  • KENS-TV (San Antonio, TX)
  • KGUN-TV (Tucson, AZ)
  • KIVI-TV (Nampa, ID)
  • KOMU-TV (Columbia, MO)
  • The Center for Public Integrity
  • The Project on Government Oversight

The list also features entries for USA Today, WIRED magazine and a number of additional outlets without noting the individual reporter’s name.

Notably, the commercial list also includes individuals from such non-profit and watchdog groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive, as well as a number of organizations dedicated to non-proliferation, labor activism and military service.

It is unclear how these individuals ended up on a list of commercial FOIA requesters, or what tangible impact such classification had on their FOIA requests. MuckRock has requested the Air Force’s protocols and procedures surrounding this list for additional clarification.


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