Update: Looks like the pizza is in the oven. My request has gone from "submitted" to the "evaluation" stage. That means a real-life person is looking at it and either having the best or worst day of her life. I am one step closer to what is bound to be an epic rejection letter.
This story was originally published on April 15, 2016.
At a premiere event earlier this week in Hollywood, Game of Thrones showrunner Dan Weiss revealed that President Obama is the only person outside of HBO who will see advance screenings of new episodes. That means those who traditionally view them — mainly journalists, industry folk, and the occasional fan group — have no choice but to wait. Why did Obama get these highly coveted assets? "He's the leader of the free world," Weiss told the crowd. "When the commander-in-chief says, 'I want to see advanced episodes,' what are you gonna do?"
So, Weiss gave them to him. And I decided this was a perfect opportunity to test the limits of the Freedom Of Information Act. If the president — and by extension, our government — is in possession of a file, surely that file is subject to my request to see it as a U.S. citizen.
I know it's a stretch. Firstly, I'm not entirely sure where the Game of Thrones screeners fall in the grey area that is personal property of a government figure. Secondly, there's a bunch of red tape around the kinds of things you can request in a FOIA. Okay, fine. There are just nine exemptions — and all of them seem like really fair calls. For example, it's off limits if the information in question would threaten our national security. I felt confident that even with these rules, TV episodes were still fair game.
This was my first time filing a FOIA request and I wasn't really prepared to explain myself on a government form. I went for the most direct approach. Under "Description," I wrote: "I would like President Obama to share his advance screeners for Game of Thrones with the public." Plus, the FOIA site mentioned that the simpler the request, the faster it would be to process.
I was surprised that this form also asked me how much I'd be willing to pay for this information. My editor said, "You can expense up to $10." But then, I thought about how I already owe the government a shit ton of money in student loans. So, I wrote that I was willing to pay nothing, but that if they insist on charging me, they can effectively "put it on my tab."
There was also a field that asked me if I'd like this request to be expedited. According to the guidelines, you should only select "yes" if it's a timely, life-threatening matter. And while I am not in any physical danger myself, I thought about how Jon Snow's life is very much in question and decided that was close enough.
And my FOIA request — tracking number GSA-2016-000633 — was done. Hell yeah, America! But it got even better.
Have you ever ordered a pizza online from Dominos? Well, if you haven't, let me introduce you to the restaurant's pizza-tracking system. It tells you when someone's processing your order, when your pizza's in the oven, and even when it's out for delivery.
The FOIA tracker is a lot like that, except without the enthusiastic cook. Right now, my order's in the "submitted stage" and I'm left with a painstakingly long wait for it to change into "evaluation," "assignment," and hopefully even "processing."
Maybe at this point, you may think I'm crazy — or at least a shitty journalist that you cannot believe is paid to do this kind of stuff. But there's a lot of evidence that makes me think Obama — or at least a government clerk wading through all the FOIA requests — will be delighted to help a girl out. Obama's in his IDGAF years, in which he's joining Marc Maron for his podcast and running wild with Bear Grylls. Perhaps, in one of his final cool-president moves, he will thoroughly recap the first couple episodes of GoT in a vlog or something.
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