NEW YORK, Jan. 22, 2020 — The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding the National Archives turn over all records concerning its decision to alter a 2017 Women’s March photo in order to remove protest signs critical of President Trump or referencing women’s bodies.
“Doctoring the photo was nothing less than Orwellian,” said Louise Melling, ACLU Deputy Legal Director, in a blog post on the filing. “Instead of documenting history, the National Archives altered it to mask criticism of the president and erase women’s bodies. We need answers.”
A Washington Post story last week revealed that alterations had been made to the photo, which was displayed as part of an exhibit, “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.” The National Archives initially defended the decision to doctor the photo, but — facing mounting public outcry — soon after reversed course. In a statement apologizing for its actions, the agency said it was a “mistake” to alter the photo.
“A mistake is tripping and spilling coffee on the photo,” responds Melling. “Blurring signs critical of Trump or referencing women’s bodies is a deliberate act — an apology alone won’t cut it.”
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In the Freedom of Information Act request filed today, the ACLU is asking the National Archives to make public all records explaining why it took the alarming step of altering the photo in the first place, and who ordered it. It is also asking the agency to release any communications it may have had with other government agencies or officials about the alterations, and a list of any other records that may have been doctored by the National Archives without the public’s knowledge.
The organization adds that it is shameful that the independent, non-partisan government agency is joining in on efforts to regulate and shame women’s bodies by removing references to them.
“The photo the National Archives doctored was of a protest about the country’s, and the president’s, treatment of women,” said Melling. “The National Archives decided our protest was too controversial, and therefore unmentionable.”
The FOIA request is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/foia-request-national-archives-doctoring-womens-march-photo.