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Compact case
Case
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Reference no. HKS1745.0
Published by: Harvard Kennedy School
Published in: 2004
Length: 5 pages
Data source: Field research
Topics: Press; Media

Abstract

This case about the pressures that the press can pose for public employees, focuses on a project leader in the US Forest Service who finds she must deal, on a regular basis, with an aggressive reporter who covers environmental issues, and who wants to be the first to release the results of a study being undertaken by the Forest Inventory and Analysis program. The study, both know, may be of key importance in an ongoing battle in the state of ''Owaho'' over whether the heavily-forested state should take new steps to limit logging, as proposed by environmental groups gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to that effect, who feel that timber has been over-harvested. The case turns on the question of whether Forest Service employee ''Petra Johnson'' should release preliminary data from a study seeking to determine whether timber harvesting has, indeed, increased significantly and perhaps unsustainably. Forest Service tradition militated against release of preliminary data - but it might be difficult for the Forest Service employee, asked directly by the reporter whether data had yet been prepared, to answer negatively. The reporter could marshal political pressure - or avail herself of the federal Freedom of Information Act. The decision is further complicated by the fact that Johnson is concerned that the preliminary data, which seem to indicate that harvesting of timber had increased in part of the state, might not be representative of the situation in the state as a whole. How should Johnson deal with the reporter? The case allows for discussion of the question of what obligations career public employees have in dealing with a free press.

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Abstract

This case about the pressures that the press can pose for public employees, focuses on a project leader in the US Forest Service who finds she must deal, on a regular basis, with an aggressive reporter who covers environmental issues, and who wants to be the first to release the results of a study being undertaken by the Forest Inventory and Analysis program. The study, both know, may be of key importance in an ongoing battle in the state of ''Owaho'' over whether the heavily-forested state should take new steps to limit logging, as proposed by environmental groups gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to that effect, who feel that timber has been over-harvested. The case turns on the question of whether Forest Service employee ''Petra Johnson'' should release preliminary data from a study seeking to determine whether timber harvesting has, indeed, increased significantly and perhaps unsustainably. Forest Service tradition militated against release of preliminary data - but it might be difficult for the Forest Service employee, asked directly by the reporter whether data had yet been prepared, to answer negatively. The reporter could marshal political pressure - or avail herself of the federal Freedom of Information Act. The decision is further complicated by the fact that Johnson is concerned that the preliminary data, which seem to indicate that harvesting of timber had increased in part of the state, might not be representative of the situation in the state as a whole. How should Johnson deal with the reporter? The case allows for discussion of the question of what obligations career public employees have in dealing with a free press.

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