Today reams of e-mails sent by Sarah Palin during her time as governor of Alaska will be released to the public. Before the full media circus begins, here’s a proposed rule to guide the discussion: anyone who wants to criticize the content of the Palin e-mails must first make all of his or her own e-mails available for others to read. Sound fair?
No critics would actually follow this rule, for the simple reason that everyone has spoken or written things in private that would be inappropriate for public consumption. The private messages may contain sensitive personal information, or they may be worded in a way that is understandable to the intended recipient but would sound confusing, brazen, or even offensive to a third party.
Imagine if every e-mail people sent had to be carefully worded to sound like a press release. They would almost never use e-mail, and productivity would suffer. No one, not even a governor, should be denied the right to private communication.
One could argue that public servants are different from private citizens. Alaskans were, after all, Sarah Palin’s bosses during her time as governor. Don’t they have the right to see what their employee was up to? Sure, as long as you think your boss should have open access to all of your e-mail — including your personal accounts, just in case you use them to discuss work.
Let’s stop the voyeurism. If each reporter who covers the Palin story must reveal their own e-mails, I suspect their eagerness to pry into someone else’s private communications will end abruptly.
— Jason Richwine is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.