Remarks by Kassy Benson
Friday, March 15, 2002
National Freedom of Information Day
The Freedom Forum

Thank you for your gracious introduction, and thank you for presenting the Madison Award to my hero, John Emerson Moss, the author of the freedom of information act.

When he came to the Congress in January of 1953 from Sacramento, California, he didn't come as a crusader - nor was he overly focused on the free flow of information. But, as those who knew him will agree, he was capable of righteous indignation unlike any person I have ever known! Pity that first poor, lowly bureaucrat who told him he could not have the documents he was seeking.

A freshman Member outraged over executive arrogance, and thus began his more than decade long battle to win enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, first through the Special Subcommittee on Government Information, and then through his Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Government Information, which ultimately produced the House version of the legislation. 

He didn't do it alone - I don't want to imply that he did. Members of the journalism community had already been hard at work, and they found their champion in John Moss. He did it with the help of people like Dr. Harold Cross, Russ Wiggins, James Pope, and Clark Mollenhoff. He did it with the help of then Congressman and now Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. 

When a less than enthusiastic Lyndon Johnson signed the bill in what could only be described as a lowkey ceremony at his ranch in Texas, John Moss was not included. It was a deliberate snub.

It was not the first time nor would it be the last that Mr. Moss incurred the wrath of his own party, or that of Lyndon Johnson. In reality, while a staunch democrat, political affiliations meant little to him. He had this quirky idea that he had been elected to office to exercise his own best judgment - not mine, not yours, and often not even what might be considered the collective wisdom of his constituency. 

After enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, he forged on to others areas and served as chairman of a number of subcommittees. While the Freedom of Information Act was always his proudest achievement, there were others. I would like to briefly tell you about some of them, because often when people think of John Moss, they begin and end with the Freedom of Information Act.

Personally, I think perhaps the most overlooked area of his legacy is his contribution in the area of foreign affairs. Remember it was the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Government Information - which we affectionately called "FOGI" - that produced the House version legislation.

If I mention no other report, I would be remiss in not mentioning this one, which is relevant to our subject matter today - It was the release of this report that brought Lyndon Johnson to Mr. Moss' bedside at the Bethesda Naval Hospital with a request that he not issue it - Mr. Moss refused him, as he did those who pressured him in the Congress. 

John Moss practiced what he preached -- the title of the report: "An Investigation of the U.S. Economic and Military Assistance Programs in Vietnam". He felt the American people had an absolute right to know how the war was being managed, or more accurately, mismanaged. It was a defining moment for him - his trips to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia took him full circle. The Hawk became a Dove. The Dove subsequently was one of the first Members of Congress to call for our withdrawal from Vietnam.

Congressman Moss decided to overhaul the securities industry - no problem, he did it. He was the author of the Securities Acts Amendments of 1975, which, among other things, paved the way for the electronic NASDAQ stock market.

He was the "father" of the Freedom of Information Act - he was again given that distinction.

He is considered to be the "father" of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the author of much of our early consumer legislation.

He is the Moss in the Magnuson-Moss Federal Trade Commission Improvements.

And his oversight hearings were legendary. I shouldn't even go there. Once again, he was given a "father" title; this time as father of modern legislative oversight. Before I close, I would like to mention two of those oversight hearings, not because of their relevance to our topic, but because they are relevant.

In 1978, more than 20 years ago, he held hearings on The Safety of the Firestone 500 Steel Belted Radial Tires.

In that same year, he held hearings on the Reform and Self-Regulation Efforts of the Accounting Profession. And yes, someone from Arthur Andersen testified. Tom Greene, who serves on the board of directors of the Moss foundation, and is now the senior Assistant Attorney General in California, remarked to me last night, after the indictment of Arthur Andersen, that Mr. Moss continued to amaze him how on target he was on important, recurring issues. Unfortunately, for all of us, it was also the year he retired and returned to his beloved California.

His closest friend and ally in the Congress, John Dingell, who is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the John E. Moss Foundation, once told us that Mr. Moss only disappointed him twice in the years he knew him - the first when he retired in 1978, the second when he died in December of 1997. I think all of us who had the privilege of working for and with him share Mr. Dingell's sentiments.

In closing, one of the Foundation's newest board members, Jeff Schwartz, who did not know Mr. Moss personally, posed a question to me recently in light of the post-September 11 efforts to circumvent FOIA ---- What Would John Moss Say.

Fair Enough - what would he say.

First, he would thank you for your efforts in helping to preserve the integrity of FOIA.

He would then remind everyone of that which seems to have fallen by the wayside -- the three branches of government are co-equal; and he would tell you that he was disappointed that more of his colleagues were not stepping forward.

But what would John Moss say? Lucy (Dalglish) this falls in line with something you said earlier in the day, "No one has shown us that an ignorant society is a safe society." 

He would tell us now - the same thing he told us over and over -- What you don't know can and will hurt you.

Again, to the American Library Association, my sincere appreciation for their recognition of Mr. Moss and for allowing me to accept the Madison Award on behalf of the Moss Family and the John E. Moss Foundation. It is a great honor.

Paul McMasters, thank you giving me the time to talk about someone many of us consider to be the best of yesterday- and thank you for keeping the light on for everyone.

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