Drew Dernavich sent me the link to Michael G. Powell’s great article on the history of redacting government documents, “
Blacked Out,” in this month’s issue of The Believer. The full text isn’t available online, but it’s worth seeking out in print.
Much to my surprise, it turns out government redactors don’t use black markers!
[T]hey take a red or brown marker and, more or less, highlight the segments unfit for access. Running this red marker redacted document through a photocopy machine set for high contrast produces a new document with black marks. The FOIA officer can then store the red marker document in the agency’s files, allowing other bureaucrats to see exactly what has been redacted. If a black marker was used, then anyone needing to revisit the document would be unable to see what has been redacted without arduously comparing the document with the original, side by side. Above all, this felt like one of those informal practical tips that bureaucrats probably learn while huddled around the water cooler or sitting at a coffee break.
There are two things people often ask me for: the original article so they can see the original text, and original art
icle that they can buy.
Suddenly, I’m thinking I might have the solution to both queries.
What if for some limited editions I abandoned my beloved black markers, and switched to red?
The original artwork—that is, the actual marker on newsprint—would look like the above image. The poem as posted online and printed on paper would look like this:
Everyone would still get to see the poems, and maybe even buy a print, but the collector of the original artwork would not only get a one-of-a-kind work, he or she would also get to see what’s underneath the redaction in the original article…a kind of secret knowledge…
You can find out when the originals are for sale by signing up for my mailing list.