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Monday, May 30, 2005

Do Ideas Really Matter? A Review of Nancy Pearcey's "Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From It's Cultural Captivity"

There is a line in one of Darlene Zschech’s numerous Hillsong masterpieces in which she laments that she worships passionately on Sunday but then “can’t even find my Bible on Monday.”
It is an apt description for many of us who claim to be Christians, especially among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. The faith professed on Sunday has little to do with the decisions we make on Monday and the rest of the week. Faith is kept in a neat little compartment totally separate from the rest of our lives.
What does this have to do with philosophy? Nancy Pearcey wrote “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity” to explain how the once-Christianized West has come so to view Sunday and Monday and to point the way to recovery of a philosophically informed, politically dynamic and Biblically grounded faith that informs every thought and action of every day.
Let me first tell you a little bit about Pearcey. A precocious child of the 1960s, Pearcey grew out of a childhood Christian faith and ended up adrift in the post-modernist ocean of isms and false gods, studying violin at the Heidelberg Conservatory in Europe and wondering what it all meant.
As she describes it, this was a grim time for her in many respects: “Eventually I embraced relativism and subjectivism and several of the other popular ‘isms’ of modern culture. For I was determined to be ruthlessly honest about the logical consequences of unbelief. If there is no God, then what can be the basis for objective or universal Truth?
“I realized that it is impossible to step outside our limited experience – our insignificantly small slot in the vast scope of the history of the universe – in order to gain access to universal knowledge, valid for all times and places.
“And if there is no God, then what can be the basis for universally valid moral standards? I shook my head and began arguing that we cannot know right or wrong in any ultimate sense. Eventually, I began to wonder whether I could even be sure about any reality outside my own head.”
She had arrived at the same point of meaninglessness that afflicts so many today. It is the view that, since the material world is “all there is,” it’s all relative and nothing matters in the ultimate sense.
Humans are thus mere accidents of chance or perhaps only one transitory phase on the never-ending evolution of life-form from the original protoplasm in the swamp a zillion billion years ago to whatever we become a zillion billion years from now.
But then she discovered L’Abri in Switzerland and its then-obscure Christian theologian/philosopher, Francis Schaeffer. The place was full of hippies, aspiring young philosophes, academic vagabonds of numerous descriptions and assorted others from points around the globe.
These folks spent their time at L’Abri arguing theology, philosophy, sociology and politics with Schaeffer and each other, high in the Swiss Alps. Many of them weren’t even Christians! Pearcey was transfixed by Schaeffer and other believers she met at L’Abri because, she said, for the first time in her life she encountered Christians who not only knew philosophy and could articulate it, they also connected it with their faith in their everyday lives. She didn’t know it at the time, of course, but she was about to discover that God is there and He is not silent, not even to the atheist who denies Him.
The woman is nothing if not thorough. Having deconstructed the faith of her fathers and pursued the stark implications of that deconstruction to its logical dead ends, Pearcey began the process of philosophical and theological recovery at L’Abri and thereafter.
The recovery was not without struggle. Near the end of a night-long vigil waiting expectantly for a miraculous sign from God, she simply gave up and started “speaking to God simply and directly from the depths of my spirit, with a profound sense of His presence. I acknowledged that I did not really need external signs and wonders because, in my heart of hearts, I had to admit (rather ruefully) that I was already convinced that Christianity was true.”
Why? Because once seen against the black backdrop of their logical meaninglessness, the isms of post-modernity leave all the essential questions unsatisfactorily answered or not answered at all. Only those with the intellectual honesty to admit its futility can escape it after arriving at such a hopeless end.
“So at about four-thirty that morning, I quietly admitted that God had won the argument.” Now several decades of reevaluation, reconstruction and studied application of her faith later, Pearcey is emerging today as a Christian thinker and intellectual advocate of immense importance.
In “Total Truth,” she has written a highly accessible summary critique of Western philosophy since Plato that lucidly details the crucial influence of world-views in shaping culture, and a powerful challenge to Christians to recover the intellectual energy to confront the empty dogmas that rule the West today.
Everybody has a world-view that is based on a set of often unconsciously held pre-theoretical presuppositions that govern how we answer fundamental questions regarding who we are, why we are here and how we should live.
For example, if I believe the material world is eternal and uncreated – i.e. has always been here and always will be – then I have no need of a God to create matter at some historical point in time. My presupposition that the material world always has and forever will be existent is thus my starting point of thought and everything follows from that point.
With that pre-theoretical presupposition about the nature of the material world, I will then logically conclude that some aspect of creation can best explain creation, not some external agent.
Note that my pre-theoretical pre-suppositions cannot be “proven.” I can’t live eternally to demonstrate that an eternal material world has no beginning or end. That means my philosophy of life is faith-based whether I realize or admit it.
It also exposes as an illusion the Fact-Value dichotomy that divides reality into that which is objectively true because it can be measured or otherwise quantified (i.e. Facts) and that which is subjectively related to individual preferences or beliefs (i.e. Values).
puts it this way:
“Every system of thought begins with some ultimate principle. If it does not begin with God, it will begin with some dimension of creation – the material, the spiritual, the biological, the empirical, or whatever. Some aspect of created reality will be ‘absolutized’ or put forth as the ground and source of everything else, the uncaused cause, the self-existent.”
There is thus a dichotomized two-story view of reality with the absolutized aspect in the upper story and everything else in the lower story. Think of Plato’s Form and Matter, Thomas Aquinas’ adaption of Aristotle in Nature and Grace, and the post-modernist Fact and Value dichotomies. If you are also wondering if those more familiar Secular/Sacred and Public/Private dichotomies are involved here, you get bonus points.
Pearcey points to the subtle dualism that was inherent in Medieval philosophy. To “save” Aristotle for the Church, Aquinas had to somehow adapt the Greek’s teleological view of being. Nature – the way a thing is, not the birds and bees – thus became the purpose or end of man, as designed by God, and could be understood with the natural reason. Grace was the gift of God that elevated natural truths already perceived by reason.
It was a short step, however, to arguing that the telos or end of a thing is contained within itself, again without need of an external agent. To put it in platonic terms, the form is contained within the thing itself.
Despite Aquinas’ best effort to keep Nature (Reason) and Grace (Faith) equally important, over time the view become dominant that there was really no need for the latter because of the power of natural reason. Faith (or Revelation) and Reason thus came to be seen as separate and even opposed realms.
Along comes Mr. Descartes with his “I think, therefore I am” ditty and the divinization of Reason is well and truly launched in Western thought.
Pearcey explains: “As the medieval period merged into the Renaissance (beginning roughly in the 1300s) a drumbeat began to sound for the complete emancipation of reason from revelation – a credo that bursts into full force in the Enlightenment (beginning in 1700s).
“The credo of the Enlightenment was autonomy. Overthrow all external authority and discover truth by reason alone. Impressed by the success of the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment enthroned science as the sole source of genuine knowledge.
“Claiming to ‘liberate’ the lower story from the upper story, it insisted that nature was the sole reality and scientific reason the sole path to truth. Whatever was not susceptible to scientific study was pronounced an illusion. Though reason was touted as philosophically neutral, in reality it began to be identified with scientific materialism.”
But whose reason was the right reason? Things got really confused in the centuries that followed. Was it Marx with his dialectical materialism within history? Or Rousseau’s natural man throwing off the chains of convention to recover the state of nature? What about Mr. Darwin’s evolutionary processes? And Nietzsche’s Super Man counts, too, right? Let’s not forget Sartre’s existentialism, Camus’ absurdities or even Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
So many choices, so many blind alleys. No wonder intelligent people conclude that nobody has the answers because in reality there are none! Or so it seems.
The one place in which answers cannot be sought by the post-modernist seeker is the one that got left behind in the medieval split of Reason and Faith. The realm of Faith is private, subjective and unscientific, so it cannot possibly have anything to say about anything important, right? Just keep your Christmas crèches, your Ten Commandments displays and those nagging questions about evolution and abortion to your self, Christian!
Which brings us to the second of Pearcey’s task, that of recovery of a vigorously and explicitly Christian worldview that speaks to the worlds of philosophy, politics, economics, sociology, science and indeed all of Creation.
Understanding the two-story worldview paradigm is step one in the recovery. Step two is understanding that Christians – understood in an organization sense as folks who constitute the surviving strongholds of mostly orthodox doctrine among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists on the Protestant side and believing traditionalists on the Catholic side – can and must throw off the chains of post-modern convention and reintegrate their understanding of all of reality with the tenets of Biblical truth as their starting point.
Getting through step two requires understanding that American religion has had its own two-story dichotomy. Pearcey reminds us that before the Great Awakening, most American Christians held to a Reformed faith that was essentially Calvinistic, rational and industrious. It was a faith primarily of the head lived out objectively through family, church and profession. Cconsidering how many Scots and Scots-Irish were among the original generations of Colonial Americans, there should be no surprise that the Reformed faith was so influential prior to the 1730s.
But with the Great Awakening came a new emphasis on the heart, the passions and individual will. Conversion became something one felt more than chose. Pearcey notes Jonathan Edwards’ observation that “our people do not so much need to have their heads stored as to have their hearts touched.”
The Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s was the era of the Camp Meetings, Revivals and a fierce individualism borne of Arminian subjectivism. Everywhere traditional authority was challenged and democracy came to the church much as it had to government a few decades before.
If you think you detect the beginning of an evangelical two-story dichotomy, you are. Think Head versus Heart, Doctrine versus Feeling. Again, it’s only a few steps from that dualism to acceptance of the Fact/Value and Public/Private dichotomies. Which is what happened after the Civil War and especially in the first half of the 20th century.
It didn’t help that some strains of believers opted to withdraw entirely from engaging the world. The world is corrupt and Christians are supposed to pursue righteousness, they reasoned, so why get dirty by participating in worldly politics?
Others retreated into an explicit anti-intellectualism. To the extent that they articulated it, their logic went along this line:Science produces evolution, which tells us man came from monkeys, so there must be something fundamentally wrong with all science.
H.L. Mencken of course had a field day with both strains, especially during the Scopes Monkey Trial. His sarcastic filings from the Tennessee trial were typical of influences of the time that created anti-Christian stereotypes that are with us still in the popular culture.
How then do Christians go on to step three in the recovery process? By applying the Truth of scripture in our own lives to be sure, but that includes our families, our professions, our thinking and our acting.
As valuable as are all of the preceding chapters, Pearcey’s two concluding chapters - How Women Started the Culture War and What Next? Living it Out - are alone worth the price of the book.
“Total Truth” is not likely to become a runaway best-seller like “A Purpose-Driven Life” or an instant candidate for being made into a feature length movie like “Left Behind.” But Pearcey notes that the signs of intelligent life are blossoming in some unlikely places, including philosophy where Alvin Plantinga has “restored theistic philosophy to respectability,” while among historians, three neo-Calvinists – George Marsden, Mark Noll and Nathan Hatch – “are so prolific that a Yale professor has warned that an ‘evangelical thesis may be taking over the study of American history.’”
Then there are the many Christian thinkers, academicians and scientists who are subjecting Darwinianism to rigorous and amazingly effective challenges such as UCLA law professor Phillip Johnson.
In the end, Pearcey’s book just may prove more significant than either the Warren or LaHaye works because she ties it all together in such a way she could inspire fresh thinking and effective action by legions of thoughtful Christians in a variety of fields.
As the Master said, it is the Truth that sets us free.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

And You Thought Fred Thompson Was Just Acting!

Doug Petch, one of my new buddies from BlogNashville and a graduate of the Database 101/201 CARR Boot Camp we conducted there May 5-6, says former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson is grooming a presidential run. Yes, I know it sounds far-fetched, but Doug is nobody's dummy and you can read his case here.

Concerning Thompson, his decision some years ago to leave the Senate and return to the acting world was a big disappointment, not because I thought he was a particularly effective Senator (he wasn't, in my view), but because, given the right circumstances on the national political scene and some political wisdom and courage on his part, he could become a powerful voice for the Right. Let's see what happens now.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

MediaSlander.com Goes Active, Challenges Foley's Easonizing, Other Attacks on U.S. Military

Newspaper Guild's Linda Foley really stuck her foot in it May 13 at the National Conference for Media Reform gathering in St. Louis when she repeated former CNN executive Eason Jordan's assertion about the U.S. military killing journalists in Iraq. Here's the key section of Foley's statement, which came during a panel discussion:

"Journalists, by the way, are not just being targeted verbally or, ah, politically. They are also being targeted for real, um, in places like Iraq. What outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number, and the brutality and the cavalier nature of the US military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal."
"They target and kill journalists from other other countries, particularly Arab countries like Al Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios with impunity."

In the uproar that predictably followed Foley's statement, she declined to respond to requests for interviews or to provide documentation. The Communications Workers of America, which is the Newspaper Guild's parent union, also declined to address the substance of Foley's assertion or provide any backup.

In what may well be the most significant outcome from the Foley flap, though, the good folks who put togetherEasongate.com have now reconvened at www.mediaslander.com and will be tracking all sorts of stuff in addition to the Foley fall-out.

The MediaSlander.com teams pledges they "will not cease operations with resolution of this particular controversy. We will remain active to confront any slanderous reporting and/or statements made defaming the honor of the men and women who constitute the US Military."

Sounds good to me. I've added the new blog to my blogroll and I hope you do the same.

You should also check out this column in E&P by the Chicago Sun-Times' Thomas Lipscomb, who has been virtually alone in the MSM in covering Foley's remarks and the aftermath. Lipscomb wonders:

"Foley had the advantage of seeing what happened to Jordan and, as the head of a powerful union of 35,000 journalists and media workers, she knew anything she said about targeting journalists would likely be scrutinized. So one would expect that she has a pretty solid case for her revival of the discredited Jordan charges? But one would be wrong. Her spokesperson, Candice Johnson, told me Foley can provide 'no evidence' to support her charges either."

Lipscomb wonders why the MSM has thus far ignored the Foley flap:
"Sherlock Holmes’s key clue to who stole the racehorse in “Silver Blaze” was a dog in the stall that didn’t bark. And something equally odd happened on the way to the Foley firestorm: To date, not a single pundit, editorial writer, or newspaper ran anything, with the exception of the Chicago Sun-Times story I wrote, a St. Paul Pioneer Press column by Mark Yost, and a Washington Times column item."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Off the Record, Media Has Problem With Unnamed Sources , Says Christian Science Monitor

Christian Science Monitor reporter Randy Dotinga has an excellent take-out on the perils and plusses of journalists relying on anonymous sources, such as the one that Newsweek trusted for its Periscope item about U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushing a Koran.

The use of anonymous sources has so gotten out of hand, Dontina notes, that even The New York Times' story on the mess Newsweek got itself into used two unnamed sources, including an "outside Bush advisor" and an "administration official."

Dotinga's money quote is this: "If you play the anonymous source game, sooner or later you'll get burned," says Tim Porter, a Mill Valley, Calif., newspaper consultant. "I don't know how many more times the American press is going to put its hand on that stove before they say, 'It's hot, don't touch it.' "

Porter is a well-respected journalist who is also a blogger. You can read his superb "ink-stained kvetches" about the media here on his blog, First Draft.

The Monitor piece also quotes University of Maryland Journalism Professor Christopher Hanson's thoughts on the topic and a perhaps not entirely tonque in cheek suggestion:
"To critics, those types of descriptions shed little light. Christopher Hanson, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, jokes that newspapers should take a step toward clarity by using icons to identify the motivations of sources - a balloon for a 'trial balloon,' a knife for a case of backstabbing, and a blowfish for a person trying to puff up the reputation of his boss."

Hanson adds that his bottom line is to use anonymous sources only "it's an issue of absolute vital importance to the public and there's no other way to get the information." That is the traditional MSM view, by the way.

For the rest of the Doninga piece, go here.

Can the Constitution's First Amendment and Freedom of the Press Survive the MSM?

Former Baltimore Sun editorial page editor Jim Keat once called me an "FOIA fanatic." It is an appellation I have long since worn proudly because the Freedom of Information Act helps implement the First Amendment and its guarantee of Freedom of the Press, which is essential to the continuance of republican liberty.

This is why I so love Patrick Henry's declaration that: "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them." The free press keeps our rulers' transactions out in the open where we can see what they are doing in our names. And then hold them accountable.

But increasingly I worry that the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press may not survive the MSM.

As it happens, I also love journalists and journalism. The classic eccentrics of the profession are mostly just memories now, but one still catches glimpses of their cultivated cynicism, unrestrained sentimentality and pride of craft whenever a bunch of reporters and editors gather after-hours to talk about the day's events.

But such well-watered gatherings are increasingly rare as the world of journalism has become an elitist profession rather than a craft of and for the common folks of everyday American life. I've been blessed to have worked in newsrooms with solid folks from both eras but much prefer the ethos of the former time.

So reading a column like that of Glenn Reynolds' latest on Slate.com strikes a chord in this corner. Critics have pointed to the arrogance, parochialism and insularity of the MSM for decades and at times it seems many in the institution are beginning to get it and to change for the better.

But then another Newsweek scandal comes along and out pours forth defensive reactions from the newsrooms providing fresh evidence that too many journalists still just don't get it. They simply don't understand that they so frequently speak and act like a privileged caste instead of as individuals trusted to report the news for the rest of us factually and honestly. The tragedy for them and us is that it is not merely the MSMers' professional credibility on the line in these matters.

The reason is, as Reynolds notes, that the First Amendment is "likely to be at risk if people see it as merely a special-interest protection for a news-media industry that is producing defective products that do harm." Products like CBS's Rathergate, the Newsweek Periscope item, CNN's Tailwind story, do just such harm.

The damage is reflected, among other places, in the consistently high percentages of people who favor government restrictions of one sort or another on journalists and public information, the most recent example of which is found in the latest survey of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Editor & Publisher summarizes one of the Annenberg survey findings thusly: "The non-journalists charge news organizations with often getting their facts wrong and more than half say the government should limit press freedoms at times."

Reynolds quotes a Boston Globe article on the Apple suit against a couple of bloggers in California and notes the paucity of MSM aid for the defendants. It would be a tragedy indeed if the only way the MSM learned the First Amendment was not written for them alone is for them to lose its protection because of their abuses.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sager, Myers Expose Treglia's Revisionist History On Campaign Finance Reform Funding

Poor Sean Treglia. First, during a March 2004 presentation, he described his funding activities at the Pew grantsmaker on behalf of campaign finance reform as an effort "to create the appearance that a mass movement was afoot" so that Congress would approve McCain-Feingold. Then, the Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism his presentation, which was made to a group of journalists, posted his speech on the web for the world to watch.

So Ryan Sager of The New York Post watched it earlier this year and actually had the audacity to quote Treglia verbatim on how he conceived and directed a multi-year campaign by eight liberal foundations that cost more than $123 million on behalf of campaign finance reform. There ensued a Blogosphere swarm that reached into the MSM and made Treglia an unwilling hero of many on the Right who had suspected for years that liberal foundations were doing what he described them as doing.

But Treglia's liberal friends in the MSM and the foundation world weren't happy with his candor and now he is doing everything he can to shift attention away from what he said at the Knight Center to how he claims those evil bloggers have misrepresentated him. His latest effort to that end appeared recently as a letter to the editor of The Chronicles of Philanthropy as a response to an earlier article in that publication by the Hudson Institute's William Schambra.

Treglia should have known better than to try to bamboozle the world by throwing up smokescreens of revisionist history. In the Internet world, transparency and honesty are the price of admission and the essential prerequisite for retaining credibility. You can read my analysis from earlier this week here.

But better yet Winfield Myers of Democracy-Project.com today took up his cyber pen with a response to Treglia and it is well worth reading, if only to savor Myers delightfully sharp use of logic and metaphor. Just consider this graph:

"This attempt to cover his backsides, which area of his anatomy Mr. Treglia himself chose to expose, results in contortions that are as ineffective in achieving their desired end as they are painful to watch, or to imagine when transferred to anatomical metaphor.
"One almost concludes that these remarkable positions must result in -- or is it derive from? -- a flexibility or willingness to bend almost anything in order to achieve a desired end. Oh, to be a political cartoonist!"

You can read Myers' entire post here. Enjoy!

But wait, there's more. Treglia is a creative guy, so much so he even made up a quote he attributes to Sager, according to Sager on his Miscellaneous Objections blog. Sager, who writes for The New York Post and a regular column for Tech Central Station, fisked the Treglia letter to the Chronicles and noted the fictional quote:

"That last quote - 'I don’t have time for all that, I’m going with my story' - is simply made up. I was -- as I work at a daily newspaper -- of course under time pressure, and I may well have indicated as much to Treglia. But my editors and I were (and remain) fully confident that the story was accurate and well-sourced. The tape doesn’t lie."

Sager also points to the bottom line on Treglia and his present attempts to rewrite what he clearly said last year:

"For all of Treglia’s accusations, he can’t point to one fact wrong in the story. It’s his right to argue that I’m taking him out of context -- but I’m not, and I’ve long been inviting readers to watch the whole tape, which I provide on this Web site. "

By all means, do go back and watch the entire March 2004 Treglia presentation - again - and then make up your own mind which version of what he said is most like ... what he said.

WHAT IS UP AT AP? Ridenour Nails AP Venerable Misuse on Filibusters News

When are the MSMers going to learn? Amy Ridenhour's National Center Blog sees an old problem in AP's use of "venerable" to describe those filibuster rules of which senators Reid, Byrd, McCain, et. al. are so enamoured.

Monday, May 23, 2005

'Nuclear Option' Averted, Compromise Means Moderates Will Be New Media Stars

As I expected, the Senate GOP leadership found a way to avoid invoking the so-called Nuclear Option to force up-or-down votes on President Bush's judicial nominees. Hugh Hewitt has the text of the compromise agreement. Powerline's John Hindraker is extremely disappointed.

I said months ago that Senate GOPers are terrified of offending Senate Democrats. Now we will see the Senate GOP leadership desperately searching for a way to share in the glory that even as this post is being written is being prepared by the MSM to shower upon Senate "moderates" of both parties who "saved" the Senate and the federal judiciary from the Extreme Right and the Evangelical Christian Theocracy.

Now that the Battle of the Filibuster has been lost by the Senate GOP leadership, the next threshold question concerns the future of the Republican Party. The GOP has had a majority in both the Senate and House for most of the past decade and a president in the White House since 2001.

And what do we have to show for this GOP dominance? Federal spending is skyrocketing. Federal regulations are skyrocketing. Medicare entitlements are skyrocketing. Social Security reform is stagnating. The Global War on Terrorism is being used to justify making the government less transparent and accountable in areas that have nothing to do with national security. The president is likely now limited to appointing moderates to the Supreme Court instead of the conservatives needed to restore the Constitution's health.

The list of ways in which Big Government not only continues to grow under the GOP but is being solidified against rollback is lengthy and growing. So could somebody please explain what use the GOP is to the cause of liberty and limited government?

REAX:

Michelle Malkin has an excellent early roundup here, including this: "Compromise Reached, Republicans Screwed."

Captain Ed offers a detailed assessment of the compromise text and summarizes it with these conclusions. about how "an even smaller minority" now controls the confirmation process:
"In short, this could be merely objectionable and not a debacle, depending on how the GOP signatories interpret "extraordinary circumstances". One must suspect that this has already been defined confidentially within the group, and like Sean Rushton surmises, ideology doesn't play a part in it any longer.
"Under no circumstances can this be seen as a good deal for the Senate majority or for Constitutional rule. The net effect is that an even smaller minority in the Senate has hijacked the confirmation process than we saw during the filibusters -- and like all tyrannies, we can only hope for benevolent despotism rather than disaster."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist can forget the White House now, according to Hugh Hewitt, who notes that "if Senator Frist can't talk Ohio's Mike DeWine and and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham off the ledge, voters will wonder how he can talk Great Britain and Italy into future coaltions of the willing."

Okie on the Lam sees a certain bridge in the Senate GOP's future: "There are bad deals, and there are stupid deals, and then there are really incredibly-stupid, outrageously-bad deals, and then there is the deal that went down in the U.S. Senate today, which dwarfs them all in badness and stupidity!"

RedState.org has a different take on the deal: "The much-discussed deal on judges was, despite the cries of the hard core, about the best possible outcome for the Republicans at this point. Of course, the best possible outcome would have been for this to never have been made an issue at all: the President was having a fair number of his nominees pushed through, and there was not, to my mind, any particularly unusual Democratic obstructionism underway. Certainly it was annoying to see particular nominees held up on procedural grounds: but really, folks, welcome to the United State Senate."

Former Pew-meister Sean Treglia Joins 'Bloggers Are Just Partisans' Chorus; Tries Rewritng His Knight Center Presentation

Former Pew grantsman Sean Treglia sparked a Blogswarm when his description of a multi-year, multi-million dollar campaign to create the appearance of public support for campaign finance reform legislation was revealed earlier this year by Ryan Sager of The New York Post and Tech Central Station.

More recently, William Schambra of the Hudson Institute wrote a piece (H/T to Win Myers, DemocracyProject.com for the PDF) in The Chronicles of Philanthropy that described that blogswarm and its significance for advocates of greater transparency in the philanthropic community. Let it be noted that Schambra mentioned yours truly in a highly complimentary context. You can read some of my postings on the issue here, here and here.

Now Treglia has a letter in the latest Chronicles responding to the Schambra piece. You should also view Treglia's March 12, 2004, Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism seminar presentation by clicking here and then scrolling down to the appropriate link.

Be forewarned. If you read Treglia's response to the Schambra article in the Chronicles before viewing the Knight Center video, you may be confused. You may even think two completely different people sharing the name of Sean Treglia are involved.

Trust me, it's one guy but you can judge for yourself which of the following statements accurately convey the substance of Treglia's description for the Knight Center journalists of the pro-campaign finance reform funding effort he helped mastermind:

Here's what Treglia says in his response to Schambra:

"By way of background, it is helpful to summarize the accusations made on the blogs at issue, something Mr. Schambra refers to as mere rhetorical excesses: As an executive at the Pew Charitable Trusts, I led a hidden liberal conspiracy that duped Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court into passing and upholding the constitutionality of campaign-finance reform.
"The conspiracy consisted of a group of eight of the nation's largest and most prestigious foundations, included all of the mainstream media who were silent co-conspirators, and was accomplished through hidden foundation grants to phony groups and organizations.
"As the story goes, I then delivered a secret speech (that just happened to be taped and that was later uncovered by a blogger) in which I describe the details of the conspiracy.
"Suffice it to say the allegations are fiction, not even loosely based on reality. There was no conspiracy, there was no effort to hide anything by anyone at any foundation, the mainstream media did not silently cover up foundation funding of campaign finance-reform initiatives, there is no secret tape, I made no admission, and Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court were not duped.
"The well-documented facts belie such claims: The American public demanded that the broken campaign-finance system be cleaned up and wisely, out of a sense of duty (and probably fearing for their own jobs), Congress listened."

Now, here is a pssage from Treglia's presentation at the Knight Center journalists:

"We had a scare. As the debate was progressing, and getting close, George Will stumbled across a report we had done and attacked it in a column. Some of his partisans were becoming more aware of what we were doing and were feeding him information. He started to reference the fact that Pew was playing a large role in it, that it was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress."But you know what? The good news, from my perspective, was that journalists just didn't know the sector, the journalists just didn't care and nobody followed up. There was a panic there for a few weeks because we were afraid the story would grow. But nobody picked it up."

Will we next hear Treglia explain how and why he was doing everything out in the open while simultaneously being scared that George Will was about to explain what Treglia was doing out in the open and why?

And there is this statement from his Knight Center presentation:

"The target was 535 Members of Congress and the idea was to create the impression that a mass movement was afoot, that everywhere they looked people were talking about campaign finance reform."

If the American public was demanding campaign finance reform, why did Treglia think it was necessary to "create the impression" of a mass movement for campaign finance reform? Was the movement invisible?

I dunno know, maybe the first law of logic - that which is A cannot be non-A - is due for revision, thanks to Sean Treglia. But then I'm just a blogger and what do I know. You can make up your own mind.

Newsweek Case Lesson: Never Stop a Foe in The Process of Slaying Himself

If you are like me, you simply cannot resist reading the rest of a column that begins with this observation:

"As the bearers of bad news, journalists from time to time feel the need to remind their audiences not to shoot the messenger. More and more, however, the press is saving everyone else the trouble and shooting itself in the foot."

Those words are from the latest column by veteran newspaperman Paul McMasters, who for the past several years has labored at the First Amendment Center in Virginia. Think of a First Amendment debate that has taken place in the nation's public policy dialogue for the past decade and you can be sure Paul has had something to say about it that is well-worth reading.

I don't always agree with Paul as we come from rather different points on the political spectrum, but he is one of the folks I always read. Just like this week's column - did you know there are currently seven court cases involving 32 journalists and media organizations that revolve around the use of anonymous sources? Or that a recent study of 16 newspapers by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found articles using anonymous sources declined from 23 percent in 2003 to just seven percent in 2004?

Go here for the whole McMasters column, which I will be linking to on a regular basis in the future.

Kudos from Christianity Today for ABC 20/20 Documentary on the Resurrection

Christianity Today blogger Ted Olsen finds much to be positive about in the 20/20 segment "The Resurrection: Searching for Answers," which aired May 20. Olsen says evangelical experts get most of the attention, but he also notes reviews by others, some of whom are less enthusiastic about the production.

Here's Olsen's basic take, including a confession from ABC Producer Elizabeth Vargas that she never knew there was so much evidence for the view that Christ's tomb was empty because He did exactly what He told His disciples He would do, which was be resurrected on the third day after His death:

"Producer Elizabeth Vargas tells Beliefnet (an ABC News partner) that she was surprised to find so much agreement. 'I didn't know that for centuries historians could actually verify that there was this really dramatic change in the disciples' behavior and nobody can really explain that,' she said. 'And that nobody did argue that really the tomb was full, they all agreed the tomb was empty, even nonbelievers. It's true that at the end of the day faith is a leap that you must make or not make. But I appreciate and really enjoy the intellectual investigation into everything.'"

Reading Vargas reminds us that there is hope even within the depths of the MSM that minds can be opened and solid journalism be the result. You can read all of Olsen's analysis here. I missed the 20/20 production, so I would be very interested in reactions from other bloggers who did see the ABC program.

USN&WR's John Leo Explains Link Between MSM Bias, Most Common Reporting Errors

As always, U.S. News & World Report columnist John Leo's column this week has something worth reading and thinking about at length. Leo describes the link between the typical MSMer's ideological biases and the kinds of reporting mistakes that follow. (H/T to Hugh Hewitt for pointing this column out).

Leo thinks Newsweek made a mistake in it's Flushgate reporting and admitted it quickly. But the Washington Post-owned news magazine's error isn't the most interesting question raised by the incident, according to Leo.

He notes that "the focus ought to be on whether the news media are predisposed to make certain kinds of mistakes and, if so, what to do about it. The disdain that so many reporters have for the military (or for police, the FBI, conservative Christians, or right-to-lifers) frames the way that errors and bogus stories tend to occur."

For example, Leo notes the prevalence of stories about allegations of abuse or atrocities by the U.S. military: "The antimilitary mentality makes atrocity stories easier to publish, even when they are untrue. The classic example is CNN's false 1998 story that the U.S. military knowingly dropped nerve gas on Americans during the Vietnam War."

Similarly, in an illustration of the 'No enemies on the Left' phenomenon James Burnham described in his classic book Suicide of the West, liberal MSMers rarely take note of civil liberties abuses by the many tyrants on the Left: "On the other hand, brutal treatment of dissenters by Fidel Castro tends to be softened or omitted in the American press because so many journalists still see him as the romanticized figure from their youth in the 1960s."

Ditto for the mass liberal indoctrination camps we call "universities" in our country these days: "Another example: It's possible to read newspapers and newsmagazines carefully and never see anything about the liberal indoctrination now taking place at major universities. This has something to do with the fact that the universities are mostly institutions of the left and that newsrooms tend to hire from the left and from the universities in question."

If you read nothing else today, be sure and read all of Leo's column.

By the way, I am confident Leo would agree that a similar assessment could be made of the ideologically linked reporting errors most typically made by reporters at The Washington Times, NewsMax.com and other conservative media outlets.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

California Writer Pens a Farewell to The Bush-Hating, Anti-Democratic Left

Keith Thompson, a Petaluma, California, writer, grew up politically in the 1960s and has for the decades since considered himself a man of the Left. But not anymore. Those who put Bush-hating before advancing democracy in places like Iraq went too far.

"My estrangement hasn't happened overnight. Out of the corner of my eye I watched what was coming for more than three decades, yet refused to truly see. Now it's all too obvious. Leading voices in America's 'peace' movement are actually cheering against self-determination for a long-suffering Third World country because they hate George W. Bush more than they love freedom."

And Thompson no longer considers himself a man of the Left. Indeed, he believes the only hope for restoring a progressive movement worthy of the name requires recognizing that "the single most important thing a genuinely liberal person can do now is walk away from the house the left has built."

Go here to read his entire explanation in today's San Francisco Chronicle. He may be a sign that Iraq is indeed becoming another Vietnam, but with the Left on the losing side this time around and worldwide consequences likely to last for generations.

Note to Professor Hanson: Are Any so Blind as The Academic MSMer Who Will Not See?

What kind of purposeful blindness is required to make this statement found in The Washington Post's Outlook Section today about Rathergate:

"Conservative bloggers pounced quickly to discredit the documents then-CBS anchor Dan Rather relied on last fall in his infamous report about President Bush's National Guard performance. Cyber-debate then moved on briskly to other things. Many people think the documents were proven to be forgeries and the gist of the report false. But in reality, no one has demonstrated conclusively whether the documents are fake, or whether or not Bush disobeyed orders to shirk flight status as alleged."

Or this statement about Easongate:

"Bloggers also set the pace when CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan came under fire last year for allegedly asserting, at a conference not covered by the news media, that U.S. soldiers had deliberately shot journalists in Iraq. Jordan insisted he had meant only that soldiers had been reckless, shooting at targets they did not know were journalists. But outrage spread so quickly over the net that Jordan resigned -- and the top story moved on -- before anyone could verify exactly what he had said. There were plenty of eyewitnesses with different versions of what he said, but there was no transcript, and to this day the issue remains murky."

Given those two examples of refusing to see the facts in front of your face, there is no surprise to find this stirring declaration of faith at the end of the same Post piece:

"We reach so many of our judgments in fog and depend on journalists like my old colleague Isikoff to help us see more clearly. So take your lumps, Mike, then go back out and nail this story down."

Professor Chris Hanson of the University of Maryland's Phillip Merrill School of Journalism is the author is these statements, which provide such a vivid demonstration of the truth of the maxim that there is none so blind as he who will not see. Hanson's Outlook piece also suggests why the MSM is probably wholly incapable of arresting its two-decade slide from one of America's most respected instutitions to one of its most discredited, or of even grasping the reasons underlying that slide.

Hanson is a former reporter for The Washington Star, Reuters and Hearst Newspapers. Maryland's j-school has a mostly deserved reputation as one of the nation's best.

The statements above are contained in an article that opens with some observations about the parallels between the Sepoy Rebellion in British India in 1859 and the deadly riots that followed Newsweek's more recent retraction of its brief Periscope column note about U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushing a Koran down the toilet. Both incidents involved allegedly false allegations of actions that were especially offensive to Muslims (and in the Sepoy affair, also to Hindus). For Hanson, the crucial difference between the incidents was the speed with which the offending allegations were communicated and thus how long before the ensuing violence erupted.

Despite the differences in time and technology, Hanson notes that "given the staggering advances in communications technology since the Indian mutiny, it's sobering to realize how difficult it remains to cut through rumor with steely, unswerving fact."

And where are we most likely to find the means of cutting through to the steely, unswerving facts? Well, Hanson's next sentence is that stirring declaration of faith that Newsweek reporter Isikoff will "take your lumps, Mike, then go back out and nail this story down."

There is so much that could be said about Hanson's utter faith in a failing institution, but just consider for the moment these "steely, unswerving facts:"

It appears Hanson and former CBS producer Mary Mapes are last two people on earth who still believe those documents at the heart of Rathergate are genuine. Certainly no one who has actually read the Thornburgh-Boccardi report commissioned by CBS believes the Killian documents aren't fakes. Professor Hanson, you can read that report here and I hope you will before you again endeavour to say something about Rathergate.

On Easongate, during a presentation to a European panel, former CNN executive Eason Jordan made a concrete assertion that U.S. troops targeted journalists during combat in Iraq. His statement was circulated to the world by an eyewitness. Soon similar statements by Jordan on previous occasions were unearthed by bloggers and MSMers. Despite having repeated opportunities to do so, Jordan has never offered a shred of evidence for his assertion. Given that the scandal cost him his job and a large measure of his credibility, it seems fair to conclude he has no such evidence.

But for Hanson, the problem is not that Rather, Jordan and Newsweek relied upon highly questionable evidence (or apparently no evidence at all in Jordan's case), but rather than bloggers with political agendas reacted and critiqued those pillars of the MSM so quickly. Things were so much easier for folks like Professor Hanson when Americans had to depend on the elite media to tell them what was news!

Here's a prediction: When Hanson is retired and sitting on the front porch reminiscing about the good old days of the MSM, the professor will still be insisting that any day now Isikoff will nail down that flushed Koran story and Americans will again turn to the long-defunct MSM giants like CBS and Newsweek for those steely, unswerving facts about the news of the day.

REAX:

The Warden asks a logical question of Hanson: "If the speed of information is what's causing so many mistakes in the media, why is Hanson getting it wrong on stories that are months old?" Go here for the rest of The Warden's excellent post on Hanson.

And Powerline's Paul Mirengoff wonders this about Hanson's teaching: "I wonder whether Hanson teaches his journalism students that Watergate and the role of journalists in that affair are still open issues because no one ever proved conclusively that Rosemary Woods didn't erase the famous tape by accident."

Mirengoff's Powerline colleague, John Hindraker, emailed Hanson and asked about his assertion that questions remain about whether President Bush properly fulfilled his service obligations as a National Guard pilot:

"As to your assertion that President Bush may, indeed, have 'disobeyed orders to shirk flight status as alleged' in early May 1972, how do you reconcile that statement with the fact that Lt. Bush's evaluation dated May 26, 1972 said in part: 'Lt Bush is an exceptional fighter interceptor pilot and officer. He eagerly participates in scheduled unit activities. During the past year he participated in several target force deployments and an F-102 aircraft element deployment in Canada. His conduct and professional approach to the mission were clearly exemplary and apparent to observers. His skills as an interceptor pilot enabled him to complete all his ADC intercept missions during the Canadian deployment with ease'?"

The Zoo has a lengthy email exchange with Hanson in which the Maryland journalism prof observes that "it is likely to me that the documents are fraudulent, but the best way to determine that would be to find out who was pushing them." Does this mean Hanson would accept fake documents from a source he considers credible? And did the professor conclude the documents are fraudulent before or after writing his Post piece? What is clear is that Hanson's piece offered absolutely no reason to think Hanson considered the documents fraudulent.

Do not miss Tigerhawk's take on a new Pew study of the impact of bloggers on the MSM's reporting agenda. Citing the Blogosphere's speed reaction to the Hanson piece, Tigerhawk offers this interesting assessment:

"I think this is as decent a metaphor as I have seen. Bloggers as a group combine two attributes -- the ability to assemble expertise on almost any topic at extreme speed, and the propensity to write at very high velocity. This combination of expertise and velocity comes at the cost, perhaps, of sobriety (there's the tavern metaphor) and deliberation. However, the competing tendency of bloggers to edit each other, also at high velocity, limits the potential damage of errors of fact."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Hosting a Database 101/201 CARR Boot Camp at The National Press Club Today

Posting will be light as I am at the National Press Club today and tomorrow hosting a Database 101/201 CARR Boot Camp for a bunch of MSM journalists and a group of journalists-to-be from the National Journalism Center.

These boot camps are for traditional journalists and for bloggers, so if you are interested in learning how to apply statistical analyses to public policy issues and get to the real news behind the politicians press statement, you should consider attending.

Go here for a complete schedule and to enroll. Go here to view the typical boot camp agenda. There are no charges for materials or attendance. More than 200 MSM editors, producers, reporters and researchers have graduated from these boot camps during the past five years. Earlier this month, a dozen folks attended the first-ever CARR Boot Camp for bloggers at BlogNashville.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Crazed Lutherans Riot, Put Midwestern Streets in Havoc As Newsweek Misfires Again

Hey, this Iowahawk fella is good, really good. Go here to get all the grisly details of a Lutefish riot sparked by the Newsweek story you haven't read! If you haven't already, you will probably want to add Iowahawk to your daily blog reading list.

Freep Reporters Use FOIA to Snare Detroit Mayor's Questionable Expenses. More Coming

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would rather his constituents not know about some things he's paid for with their tax dollars, according to Detroit Free Press reporters M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer. Things like:

The $850 steakhouse dinner.
The $836 charged to the city's credit card for his sister's stay in New Orleans.
The $3,837 he spent on chauffeured sedans over four days.
The $11,644 he dropped on Super Bowl hotel rooms.

The Mayor was so determined to keep those and many other questionable expenses out of the public eye that his aides withheld evidence of the suspect charges from a response to a Free Press Freedom of Information Act request. Little did those aides know the paper already had obtained from another source the records they witheld from the Mayor's FOIA response.

Now the Free Press is suing for complete copies of the mayor's credit card records. Who knows what else might be found when the Mayor is ordered to turn over all of his official credit card receipts and expense reports. And the Mayor's aides don't know what the Free Press might already know so they can't afford to hold anything else back.

Just goes to show yet again why FOIA laws are essential at every level of government, from the Mayor's office through the state and all the way up to the federal bureaucracy. Politicians and bureaucrats hate being forced out in the sunlight. FOIA laws make it possible for aggressive reporters and bloggers to shine the light in dark places.

Go here to read the whole Free Press report.

Also shows the Mitch Albom scandal is not the only thing happening in the Freep's newsroom these days.

Should Only Rich People be Able to Appeal FOIA Denials by Bureaucrats?

A Justice Department official told a House Reform Committee Subcommittee last week that a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively limits appeals to people with very deep pockets should not be reversed by a proposed bill now before Congress. My latest Knight Ridder Tribune FOIA Series column explains the details here.

More MSM Scandals: What's Up at The Freep? Albom Scandal Tip of an MSM Iceberg?

Detroit Free Press sports writer/ESPN commentator/sports radio star/best-selling author Mitch Albom misled readers in an April 3 column that quoted two Michigan State basketball players as if they were at a game they didn't actually attend, the Michigan newspaper said yesterday in a massive reporting package detailing its five-week internal investigation into the celebrity journalist's actions.

In a takeout that started above the fold on A1 and consumed two full inside pages, including charts, sidebars and takeout quotes, the Freep said its star "described events at a Michigan State basketball game that had yet to take place and that later proved to be false"

The paper also said its investigation found that Albom "at times has used quotes from newspapers, TV programs or other publications without indicating that he did not gather the material himself, in violation of the Freep's rules on crediting sources." Albom "in several instances" used quotes "exclusively gathered by another media organization," the paper said.

"Albom was not alone in this," the Freep said. "The review found that other Free Press columnists have also failed to give credit for quotes gathered by other news organizations." The paper's long-standing editorial policy requires reporters to credit others work when they use it, that they accurate quote people they themselves interview and that they not mislead readers.

Alboms is well-known to a national sports audience as a result of his regular appearances on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters" Sunday program. His New York Times best-seller "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" was recently made into a movie. He's been named the country's best newspaper sports writer by the Associated Press Sports Writers numerous times since 1986.

Albom "vigorously defended his integrity and his approach," the Freep said. He claimed Freep editors approved the use of unattributed quotes by him and other columnists in the newsroom, according to the paper. He argued to the paper's investigators that columnists get more leeway than other writers in the newspaper and that it is more important that they use the quotes accurately than identify who collected them.

"I've been at the Free Press for 20 years, have never had a whiff of controversy," Albom told the Freep. "And I would like to think I did a decent job in those 20 years."

In describing how Albom wrote the offending column, the Freep seemed to suggest Albom's hectic schedule was to blame:

"It was a sweet, sunny Monday afternoon in early April and Albom was juggling, as usual. He'd arrived at Comerica Park hours before the Tigers seaon opener. He hit the locker room and press box and prowled the stands, gathering quotes and atmospherics for his front-page column the next day, a story headlined 'What a wonderful time in Detroit.'

"'You couldn't have written a better script,' manager Alan Trammell said after the game.

"Albom dutifully recorded the remarks and those of the day's hero, designated hitter Dmitri Young. But Albom wasn't anywhere near the locker room after the game. He'd left early, whisked by luxury car service to his popular afternoon radio show on WJR-AM (760) three miles away.

"So how did Albom get the post-game quotes? During commercial breaks in his show, he took the comments from TV and radio interview. With his editor's approval, Albom then dropped the quotes into his column without noting where he got them.

"Convenient. Creative. But in terms of Free Press policy, not proper procedure."

The Detroit News, which shares an operating agreement with the Freep and is the latter's long-time rival in Motor City journalism, today said the Freep investigative reporter who led the Albom inquiry was unhappy with the way his newsroom bosses reported the results of his work and that of his colleagues.

"Now the investigation itself is under fire, as several reporters who worked on the review say editors emphasized elements that supported Albom rather than criticized him ... Free Press investigative reporter David Zeman said Monday he and other reporters who conducted the five-week investigation were disappointed that editors chose to emphasize 'what we didn't find, instead of what we did find.'"

The News quoted a Poynter Institute "ethics group leader" who said of the Freep's handling of the report that "There's a sports metaphor for this -- it's called pulling a punch. From what you describe to me, it sounds as if their loyalties were not with the reader, but with their own."

The Albom scandal has implications far beyond the Detroit newspapers, according to the News. "The issue matters to more than those who work in the downtown Detroit office that houses both The Detroit News and the Free Press. At a time when public trust in the media is low, credibility is a treasured commodity."

The News reported that Free Press Publisher and Editor Carole Leigh Hutton denied in an interview that she had sought to water down the story. She said the lead and headline were changed to be more "newsy. We were just trying to be more clear and more newsy. God knows if we were about taking care of Mitch, there wouldn't have been any investigative report."

The Freep story quoted Hutton as saying the results of her paper's investigation "reflect a lack of familiarity with the paper's rules on attribution. She said she would take steps to address the problems."

ANALYSIS:

Which is more disturbing, the fact one of the nation's best known sports writers - a journalist who has been widely honored by his profession for two decades - routinely thought nothing of using other people's work without proper credit or that his employer found he was far from alone in the Freep newsroom in doing the same thing?

Since when do professional journalists have to be reminded that simple honesty dictates that they not present the work of others as if it was their own?

How does Hutton propose to reassure Freep readers and the many honest reporters and editors working in the Freep newsroom that their efforts will not be tarred by association with Albom and others using unattributed quotes?

Do only sports reporters do this? What about the editorial page? And the news pages?

Could this scandal in Detroit tell us something about why so many people so often complain that they are misquoted by daily newspaper reporters across the country?

REAX:

JProf is disturbed by the message Albom's attitude communicates to journalism students. Says Jim Stovall:

"But the most troubling of all is Albom’s attitude toward changing a direct quotation to make it livelier. Albom says that’s ok if the quote is “essentially accurate.”
That is certainly not the message that those of us who teach writing want to send to our students. Such is not the thinking of a meticulous reporter."


Read Prof. Stovall's complete post here. Unfortunately, he doesn't have Trackback or a comment capability on the site.

RightNumberOne thinks the Freep's lede says it all about rampant newsroom plagiarism and the attitudes that make it possible.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Was Newsweek's Sin That The Koran Flushing Story Was Too Good Not to be True?

Bloggers and a lot of others are agog over Newsweek's handling of its report that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down a toilet as a means of angering Islamic detainees accused of being supporters or members of terrorist organizations.

More than a dozen people died and hundreds were injured in the anti-U.S. riots the Newsweek report sparked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Gaza Strip. Desecration of the Koran is punishable by death in Islamic nations.

Now Newsweek says it can no longer vouch for the accuracy of the story, which appeared as a brief item in the magazine's "Periscope" column in the front of the book. Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker said reporters Michael Iskikoff and John Barry relied upon "a knowledgable government source" when they wrote the report. That source claimed to have seen a reference to the flushing incident in a military report.

After the magainze's article appeared and the deadly riots began, however, Newsweek's lone source, which it has not identified, backed off, saying he could not be certain he actually read of the incident in an official report or in a draft of some other report.

Whitaker told Reuters that "As to whether anything like this happened, we just don't know. We're not saying it absolutely happened but we can't say that it absolutely didn't happen either."

Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meachum defended the magazine's report, claiming in an interview with Reuters that "this was reported very carefully, with great sensitivity and concern, and we'll continue to report on it. We have tried to be transparent about exactly what happened, and we leave it to the readers to judge us."

ANALYSIS:
For whatever reason, it appears Newsweek's reporters and editors forgot Journalism 101's First Rule: You don't publish a serious allegation that could seriously damage or destroy an individual's reputation, put somebody in physical danger or place public safety at risk if you don't have two independently verifiable sources.

Notice how Whitaker describes what his two reporters did in an attempt to establish their lone source's credibility: "Their information came from a knowledgeable U.S. government source, and before deciding whether to publish it we approached two separate Defense Department officials for comment. One declined to give us a response; the other challenged another aspect of the story but did not dispute the Qur'an charge."

Read that last sentence again because it is a damaging admission of gross journalistic error. Neither DOD official verified Newsweek's lone source. One of the two Pentagon officials approached by Newsweek even raised a question about related information apparently provided by the lone source. But Newsweek published the Koran flushing allegation anyway. Surely that decision violated the magazine's own editing standards.

In any case, Newsweek went ahead and published despite its failure to independently verify its lone source's credibility. At a minimum, Journalism 101 would have required holding off publication until additional reporting and verification could be completed.

They also appear to have forgotten Rule Two: Anonymous sources in government always have agendas, typically self-serving agendas. That means journalists should never rely upon lone anonymous government sources unless they are quoting a document or person they routinely see and can provide additional details, the verification of which would not jeopardize identity.

Otherwise, there is simply no way to reassure readers that a lone anonymous source isn't using the media to peddle half-truths or outright falsehood. Even with such verification, the information is often still second-hand and thus ought to be viewed with great caution.

Why then, having made such grievous, basic errors, would Newsweek's editors and reporters go ahead and print such a flimsily sourced allegation?

Here are some possibilities: First, competitive pressures made them fear somebody else would beat them to the story. It's not uncommon for anonymous government sources to feed such fears among journalists. When this happens, however, it can be a strong signal the information is incomplete, untrustworthy or otherwise compromised.

Second, Newsweek had previously published information provided by the source that checked out, so why doubt the veracity of the source in this instance? But like they say about the stock market, an anonymous source's previously credible performance is no guarantee of future credibility.

Third, Newsweek might have thought it had the same information from other unofficial sources - such as former Guantanamo detainees - who for obvious reasons are deemed less trustworthy. But when somebody in government says the same thing as the less credible sources, it can create a presumption the original information is accurate. Given the Pentagon's insistence that previous descration allegations had not been supported, this option seems rather unlikely in the present case.

Which leaves us with a fourth option - For too many people in the Newsweek chain of editorial command, it just had to be true or it seemed so credible that it must be true, given everything journalists "know" about U.S. interrogation methods of prisoners in the war on terrorism. Call this the Rathergate Option.

Frankly, it is bad enough that the magazine admits it can't say for sure that the incident really happened, but given what Newsweek has offered in its own defense, it is difficult not to conclude that the fourth possibility is exactly what happened.

Given all of the other recent examples of MSM journalists being caught making up facts and quotes, Newsweek ought not be surprised to hear a chorus of demands that it go a lot further down the road of transparency and demonstrated credibility before anybody will ever again take it seriously.

Note: Newsweek has late Monday officially retracted the story. "Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay," Whitaker said.

REAX:
As usual, Captain Ed gets right to the basic issue regarding Newsweek's explanation:
"Quite frankly, this is bulls--t. They went to the Pentagon with a wild story about flushed Qu'rans and now they're surprised when no one knew anything about it? Can you imagine what Newsweek would have written and published had the Pentagon told them to keep quiet about it? They would have turned it into another Abu Ghraib, complete with cover-ups and military censorship. It would have resulted in more silly Senate hearings, and even worse publicity than what Newsweek already generated, with more loss of life -- and all for a story that sounded patently false from the very beginning."

Michelle Malkin is hardly less "understanding" of the magazine's explanation, quoting at length from the appearance on this morning's Don Imus Radio Show of Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter.

And LaShawn Barber has the roundup of blogger reaxs from everywhere, plus her own saucy observation: "When was the last time you heard the words 'Bible' and 'desecrated' in the same sentence? I digress."

Trey Jackson thinks liberals are defending Newsweek because the magazine is one of theirs. But he suspects the saner heads in the newsroom probably wish some of the Moonbats of the Left would be quiet. Here's his whole post.

My buddy Dale Baker of Okie on the Lam wonders what kind of medication might be available for what appears to ail Newsweek.

Then there is "Flushed," a Cox & Forkum editorial cartoon that leaves nothing to waste.

Clayton Cramer notes that "Newsweek lied, People died" and much, much more, including a disturbing observation from another blogger who thinks Congress ought to investigate. No, no, a thousand times no. But Clayton is always worth reading.

The Professor was in Australia delivering a lecture or returning from lecturing Down Under when this story first broke but he has now filed an analysis and it is up to his usual high standards. Here is the heart of Rosen's assessment, which bears quoting at some length:

"The very difficulty of summarizing what the faulty report said tells us something vital about it. To wit: Newsweek, which I will call S1 for our first level source, and for which we have names (Michael Isikoff, Mark Whitaker, John Barry) said that it had sources (S2) without names, who in turn said that other sources (S3) also without names, working as investigators for the government, have learned enough from their sources (S4), likewise unnamed, to conclude in a forthcoming report for U.S. Southern Command (finally, a name!) that unnamed interrogators (S5) dumped the Qur’an into toilets to make a point with prisoners (S6) who are Muslims but also not named.
"And as Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker explained, what made this nameless, formless, virtually fact-free item newsworthy was not the "toilet" imagery itself, or some of the other equally revolting allegations, which had been reported numerous times before, but the "fact" that for the first time a government source (that would be S2) said it.
"The fact that a knowledgeable source within the U.S. government was telling us the government itself had knowledge of this was newsworthy," Whitaker said in an interview with Howard Kurtz.
"In this way of thinking--the adequacy of which is in doubt--if you trust the source, and Newsweek told us it did, then the source saying it (Qu'ran thrown down toilets) is enough to make it news. Except that the kind of news the source was willing to make was 'weak' even if spot on. It was just a prediction of what someone else will later be saying, not what the source himself knew first hand."


If you trust the source, then the source saying it makes it publishable? Why am I reminded of a certain Georgia peanut farmer who was once known for saying "Trust me"? If that is indeed the standard to which the MSM has fallen, then the end of the MSM may be closer than any of us have heretofore imagined.

The Laughing Wolf says Newsweek's conduct makes him ashamed of ever having been a journalist: "Suffice it to say that right now I am ashamed at ever having been any part of the Old Media or to say that I was a 'journalist.' Alas, I was, and even was inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha for my academic work in journalism. "

Me? I say don't give up, Wolf, let's make it right again.

As the reactions continue to swarm, it seems increasingly clear that Flushgate is a milestone in the life and death of the MSM every bit as important as Jayson Blair at The New York Times, Rathergate at CBS and Easongate at CNN.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The True History of The New York Times

An internal panel recently aired a report on how The York Times can regain its readership's trust in the wake of the Jayson Blair and other scandals. It makes interesting reading, but Iowahawk already has the real history. Enjoy!

Uncle Sam's Attitude Toward FOIA: "Obfuscation on Behalf of Opacity"

That has to be the best description ever of how the Justice Department views the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I wish I could take credit for the phrase but it's a product of the fertile mind of Winfield Myers of Democracy-Project.com.

As evidence that Myers has nailed it, consider the following exchange during Wednesday's House Reform Committee Subcommittee hearing on the FOIA in which Deputy Assistant Attorney General Carl Nichols was asked by Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-NY, what Justice does to ensure compliance by federal agencies:

TOWNS: Mr. Nichols, there are concerns that agencies are not being compliant with the visions of FOIA relating to response time. Can you offer us some specific examples of what the Department of Justice has done to enforce agency compliance with FOIA? Has your DOJ FOIA office been active in enforcing agencies to be in compliance with their FOIA activities?
NICHOLS: I want to make clear that our oversight responsibility, as we discussed earlier and I think is in my testimony, is that we're responsible for encouraging agencies to comply with FOIA in a timelyand consistent manner.

TOWNS: How do you do that?
NICHOLS: We post guidances. We have a full-time staff that consults regularly with FOIA. Several members of that staff are here today. The Office of Information and Privacy, OIP, they have a very robust web page that gives agencies guidance on both substantive and procedural aspects of the act to encourage their compliance with the act.
TOWNS: But there's nothing you could do, though, if they do not comply?
NICHOLS: I'm not sure what you mean by nothing we can do.
TOWNS: Yes, what can you do, then? Maybe that's a better way to put it?
NICHOLS: Well, I think I've said we encourage their compliance.
TOWNS: Encourage? Could you be a little bit more specific?
NICHOLS: I think, A, we make sure they understand their obligations under the act. B, we talk to them about their obligations in the act. C, we publish this guide that tells them what they're supposed to do and this is not a small book, obviously. This lays out their various obligations, and we try to make sure they understand as best they can what they're supposed to do. I think those are important, substantial efforts that we undertake, and we devote a substantial number of people, time and effort to attempting or pushing agencies to comply with their obligations.


Towns asked a simple question - what do you do when agencies don't comply? Nichols clearly didn't want to respond to that question on the record because the answer is essentially "nothing." So instead he repeated what he'd already said about "encouraging" compliance.

Nichols was later asked by Rep. Todd Platts, R-PA, the subcommittee chairman, if Justice ever directs an agency to reverse a decision to withhold requested documents. Nichols said he was unaware of any examples but promised to check and get back to the subcommittee for the record.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

More Bad News on the FEC Front: Ready for Your Subpoena?

There were other things happenning in the nation's capitol yesterday besides wandering Cessnas and that House subcommittee hearing on the FOIA. RedState's Mike Krempasky was there when the Institute on Politics, Democracy and the Internet joined with the Center for Democracy and Technology held a briefing on the proposed FEC rule regulating freedom of speech on the Internet.

With his usual understated wit, Krempasky spotlights one of the basic problems in this process by noting:

"Further, when you present several sets of facts illustrating what bloggers really do right now (soliciting money, coming together to collaborate, etc) and the former head of the enforcement division at the FEC agrees in every single case that under the rules as currently proposed by the FEC those situations would at the VERY LEAST trigger an investigation by the Commission - well...pardon me if I don't just roll over and say, 'Thank you sir, may I have another?' Get ready for your subpeonas, my friends. "

Are you ready for your subpoena? Go here for the rest of the story from Krempasky.

Justice Official Rationalizes FOIA Delays, Says They Are 'Intractable' for Some Agencies

A top Justice Department official told a House Government Reform Committee subcommittee yesterday that many federal agencies can't meet federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) deadlines and there is not much that can be done to improve the situation.

"Many federal agencies, especially those required to meet large-volume FOIA demands or demands for particularly sensitive records, are unable to comply with the statute's response deadlines for their FOIA requests and they maintain FOIA backlogs exceeding those lengths of time," Carl Nichols, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, told the Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability.

The FOIA guarantees all citizens access to all federal documents, subject only to nine exceptions meant to protect factors like national security, law enforcement, personal privacy and commercial business secrets.

"The reasons for this struggle are multiple and largely intractable," he said. "First and foremost is the fact federal agencies have primary missions that place high demand on limited resource; this is especially true in the post 9/11 world. Such limited resources make it increasingly difficult for federal agencies, particularly the larger agencies, to administer FOIA with the timeliness all concerned would prefer."

Nichols claimed "no discussion about FOIA can be complete without a serious and sustained examination of the resources and personnel needs faced by the executive branch in administering FOIA."

Nichols added that even with such a discussion of staff and budget issues of FOIA administration, "both the complexity and magnitude of FOIA requests received by some federal agencies render strict compliance with the act's existing time limits a practical impossibility for them in any event."

Nichols was testifying as a member of the first of two panels appearing before the subcommittee yesterday in only the second congressional FOIA oversight hearing in nearly a decade. Rep. Todd Platts, R-PA, is chairman of the subcommittee. Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, chaired the first such hearing earlier this year with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, as a Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee. Cornyn and Leahy are co-sponsors of the Open Government Act of 2005, which provides the first comprehensive reforms of the FOIA since its 1966 passage.

Nichols' testimony was notable for other reasons in addition to his declaration that complying with FOIA's 20-day response deadline is essentially impossible for some agencies. Cornyn told the subcommittee in a written statement presented for the record that Nichols' testimony appeared to reverse the Justice Department's previous favorable view of the Cornyn-Leahy proposal.

The proposal "holds the possibility of leading to significant improvements in the Freedom of Information Act," Justice had said on its web site earlier this year. Cornyn quoted that statement at the March 15 Senate hearing and noted that Attorney General Albert Gonzalez promised during his confirmation hearings to work with Cornyn and other senators on reforming the FOIA.

But yesterday Nichols offered no expression of support for Cornyn-Leahy and seemed to suggest instead that no FOIA reforms are needed. "All in all, FOIA is working about as well as might be expected as it enters its middle age," he said.

Nichols did explicitly express opposition to a provision of Cornyn-Leahy that would reverse a 2001 Supreme Court decision that makes it virtually impossible for FOIA requestors who sue the government to reverse a decision to withhold documents to collect attorneys fees. Cornyn told the subcommittee that failure to reverse the decision would prevent FOIA requestors without the resources for extended court fights from ever appealing a federal official's decision to withhold requested documents even when those documents clearly should be made public under the FOIA.

ANALYSIS:

Why is it government officials always claim lack of budget and staff explain their inability to do things they are required to do by the law? That claim is at the heart of Nichols' rationale for continuing increases in the number of backlogged - i.e. unprocessed - FOIA requests last year. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study estimated the increase at 14 percent from 2003 to 2004. Federal agencies received a record 3 million FOIA requests last year, according to the Justice Department.

But there is more to Nichols' rationale than simply the same old bureaucratic song-and-dance of "we don't have enough money or people." Read Nichols' testimony carefully and it becomes clear that reason one is FOIA compliance just isn't a priority in the federal government. Nichols estimates federal agencies spend about $300 million annually on FOIA compliance. With a total federal budget of $2.3 trillion, the government spends 0.0013 percent of its budget on FOIA compliance.

That being the case, one must wonder why Nichols didn't suggest the subcommittee consider increasing the government's FOIA compliance funding. Instead Nichols said the the FOIA is functioning about as well as can be expected given its age, which suggests that's how the Justice Department wants it to stay.

Another way of looking at this issue is the staffing devoted by the Justice Department to insuring FOIA compliance. Nichols described his department as "the lead federal agency for FOIA" and said "we work to encourage uniform and proper compliance with the Act by all federal agencies through our Office of Information and Privacy, which is one of the department's 40 distinct components."

Nichols added that OIP has "a very experienced staff ... who contribute decades of experience in working with the FOIA and provide a perspective of long standing to any examination of its implementation."

That is all true but it is far from the whole story of OIP. According to U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data, OIP's staff totals only 42 people, including 19 attorneys, two paralegals, two legal occupations trainees, two management and program analysts, one office automation clerical, one secretary, two miscellaneous clerks and 13 miscellaneous administrative persons.

With a total workforce of 104,383, according to the latest available OPM data, OIP's 42 employees represent 0.0004 percent of the Justice Department's employees. With a total federal civilian workforce of 2.7 million full and part-time employees, those 42 OIP workers have their hands full indeed.

Let's not forget here, however, that every agency has additional employees devoted to FOIA administration. The Justice Department, for example, claims in its most recent FOIA annual report that its overall workforce devotes 562.52 work-years to FOIA activities. One work-year does not necessarily equal one employee because the government calculates total effort expended by full and part-time employees.

Even so, here's the bottom line: These budget and staffing resources represent a miniscule area of activity for the federal government's "lead agency" for FOIA compliance.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

House Panel Told Internet, Bloggers Key to More Transparency in Government

On a day punctuated by a lunchtime evacuation that emptied the Capitol building in a matter of minutes after a small private plane wandered into forbidden air space a House panel was told more transparency in government is inevitable as the Internet becomes the nation's dominant form of communications. Bloggers covering public policy issues are likely to lead that charge to increased transparency.

But in the meantime, the federal government's Freedom of Information Act system is broken and, thanks to bureaucratic apathy and self-interested obstacles, functions more as an obstacle to the public's ability to know how its business is being conducted in government. That's the essence of what I told the House Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability.

I was a member of a second panel testifying today before the subcommittee, which is headed by Rep. Todd Platts, R-PA. The other two members of my panel were Jay Smith, President of Cox Newspapers, and Ari Schwartz, Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. We were preceeded by a panel consisting of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Carl Nichols, Linda Koontz, GAO's Director of Information Management Issues, and Dr. Allen Weinstein, the National Archivist and author of the landmark book "Perjury," the definitive account of Alger Hiss and his role as a Soviet spy in the U.S. government.

Here's the text of my formal statement:

MY NAME IS MARK TAPSCOTT. I AM DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC POLICY AT THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION. THE VIEWS I EXPRESS IN THIS TESTIMONY ARE MY OWN, AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS REPRESENTING ANY OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION. I APPRECIATE VERY MUCH THE OPPORTUNITY TO TESTIFY ON THE OPEN GOVERNMENT ACT OF 2005.

AMONG SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFELD’S LESSER-KNOWN MARKS OF DISTINCTION IN HIS PUBLIC SERVICE CAREER IS THE IMPORTANT ROLE HE PLAYED AS A FRESHMAN REPUBLICAN MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE IN WRITING AND HELPING SECURE PASSAGE OF THE 1966 FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT.

RUMSFELD OFFERED AN IMPORTANT OBSERVATION DURING A FLOOR SPEECH HE DELIVERED TO THE HOUSE JUNE 20, 1966, THAT HAS GREAT RELEVANCE FOR US TODAY AS WE SEEK TO IMPROVE THE PRESENT FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT SYSTEM.

RUMSFELD SAID: “THE LEGISLATION WAS INITIALLY OPPOSED BY A NUMBER OF AGENCIES AND DEPARTMENTS, BUT FOLLOWING THE HEARINGS AND ISSUANCE OF THE CAREFULLY PREPARED REPORT – WHICH CLARIFIES LEGISLATIVE INTENT – MUCH OF THE OPPOSITION SEEMS TO HAVE SUBSIDED.

“THERE STILL REMAINS SOME OPPOSITION ON THE PART OF A FEW GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATORS WHO RESIST ANY CHANGE IN THE ROUTINE OF GOVERNMENT. THEY ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE INADEQUACIES OF THE PRESENT LAW AND OVER THE YEARS HAVE LEARNED HOW TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ITS VAGUE PHRASES.

“SOME POSSIBLY BELIEVE THEY HOLD A VESTED INTEREST IN THE MACHINERY OF THEIR AGENCIES AND BUREAUS AND THERE IS RESENTMENT OF ANY ATTEMPT TO OVERSEE THEIR ACTIVITIES, EITHER BY THE PUBLIC, THE CONGRESS OR APPOINTED DEPARTMENT HEADS.”

WHAT RUMSFELD DESCRIBED AS HAVING HAPPENNED OVER THE YEARS PRIOR TO 1966 IS STILL WITH US. IT IS THE PROCESS OF CAREER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES – WHO ROUTINELY HANDLE THE VAST MAJORITY OF FOIA REQUESTS - BECOMING EVER MORE FAMILIAR OVER THE YEARS WITH THE SOMETIMES VAGUE PHRASES AND LOOPHOLES OF THE FOIA ACT AND ITS IMPLEMING REGULATIONS AND CASE LAW.

WE SHOULD RECOGNIZE THAT IN PART THIS PROCESS RESULTS FROM THE INTENTIONAL HEALTHY INSULATION OUR SYSTEM PROVIDES TO CAREER FEDERAL EMPLOYEES TO PROTECT THEM FROM INAPPROPRIATE PRESSURE FROM POLITICAL APPOINTEES. BUT THAT SAME INSULATION CAN ALSO MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO HOLD EMPLOYEES ACCOUNTABLE FOR THINGS LIKE FAILING TO PROPERLY ADMINISTER THE FOIA.

LET ME SAY AT THIS POINT THAT BEFORE BECOMING A JOURNALIST I SERVED IN THE LEGISLATIVE AND EXECUTIVE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT. I WAS THE FOURTH GENERATION OF MY FAMILY TO SERVE IN GOVERNMENT, I HAVE THE UTMOST RESPECT AND ADMIRATION FOR CAREER FEDERAL WORKERS. EVEN SO, THEY ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM HUMAN NATURE, WHICH TOO OFTEN SEEKS THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE. IN FOIA MATTERS, THAT PATH TOO FREQUENTLY INVOLVES AN ABUSE OR MISAPPLICATION OF THE LAW.

I BELIEVE THIS PROCESS OF BUREAUCRATIC STULTIFICATION ACCOUNTS FOR MOST OF THE PROBLEMS WITH THE CURRENT FOIA SYSTEM AND HELPS EXPLAIN WHY A 2003 SURVEY BY THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE FOUND AN FOIA SYSTEM "IN EXTREME DISARRAY." THAT SURVEY COVERED 35 FEDERAL AGENCIES THAT ACCOUNTED FOR 97% OF ALL FOIAS THE PREVIOUS YEAR.

AMONG OTHER THINGS, THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE SAID IT FOUND THAT "AGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION ON THE WEB WAS OFTEN INACCURATE; RESPONSE TIMES LARGELY FAILED TO MEET THE STATUTORY STANDARD; ONLY A FEW AGENCIES PERFORMED THOROUGH SEARCHES, INCLUDING E-MAIL AND MEETING NOTES; AND THE LACK OF CENTRAL ACCOUNTABILITY AT THE AGENCIES RESULTED IN LOST REQUESTS AND INABILITY TO TRACK PROGRESS."

IN A SECOND PHASE OF THE SAME 2003 SURVEY, THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE ASKED THE SAME AGENCIES FOR LISTS OF THE 10 OLDEST OUTSTANDING FOIA REQUESTS IN THEIR SYSTEMS. HERE IS HOW THE ARCHIVE DESCRIBED THE RESULT:
“IN JANUARY 2003, THE ARCHIVE FILED FOIA REQUESTS ASKING FOR COPIES OF THE ‘10 OLDEST OPEN OR PENDING’ FOIA REQUESTS AT EACH OF THE 35 FEDERAL AGENCIES THAT TOGETHER HANDLE MORE THAN 97% OF ALL FOIA REQUESTS. SIX AGENCIES STILL HAVE NOT RESPONDED IN FULL, MORE THAN TEN MONTHS LATER AND DESPITE REPEATED PHONE CONTACTS …THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT ITSELF, AS AMENDED IN 1996, GIVES AGENCIES 20 WORKING DAYS TO RESPOND TO FOIA REQUESTS.”

HAVING SPENT NEARLY TWO DECADES AS A JOURNALIST HERE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. AND HAVING FILED MORE FOIA REQUESTS THAN I CARE TO REMEMBER, THERE WERE NO SURPRISES FOR ME IN THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE SURVEY. NOR WAS I SURPRISED IN 2002 WHEN MY OWN CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC POLICY FOUND IN A SURVEY OF FOUR AGENCIES THAT JOURNALISTS RANKED ONLY FOURTH AMONG THE MOST ACTIVE FOIA REQUESTORS. ASK THEM WHY AND THE REPLIES INVARIABLY ARE VARIATIONS ON THIS THEME: IT WASTES TOO MUCH TIME AND THEY PROBABLY WON’T DISCLOSE WHAT I NEED WITHOUT A BIG LEGAL FIGHT, WHICH MY PAPER CAN’T AFFORD, SO WHY BOTHER?

I RECENTLY LEARNED OF THE EXPERIENCE OF FRANK FLIMKO, PUBLISHER OF THE CD PUBLICATIONS NEWSLETTERS, THAT REFLECTS VIRTUALLY ALL OF THE MAJOR PROBLEMS OF THE FOIA SYSTEM TODAY. THE SPECIFIC NEWSLETTER IN THIS INSTANCE IS THE “CHILDREN AND YOUTH FUNDING REPORT.”

LAST MAY KLIMKO REQUESTED FROM THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEATH AND HUMAN SERVICES A COPY OF A REPORT PRODUCED BY THE DEPARTMENT ON THE USE OF FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS IN THE COMPENSATION OF THE 25 TOP HEAD START PROGRAM EXECUTIVES AND INFORMATION ON THE GRANTS RECEIVED BY THE TOP 25 HEAD START OFFICES.

THIS KIND OF INFORMATION REGARDING THE USE OF FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS IN A WELL-KNOWN FEDERAL PROGRAM OUGHT TO BE EASILY ACCESSIBLE TO ANY MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC. YET ALMOST A YEAR TO THE DAY LATER, KLIMKO IS STILL BEING TOLD BY HHS THAT HE CANNOT HAVE THAT INFORMATION BECAUSE RELEASING IT COULD VIOLATE AN INDIVIDUAL’S PRIVACY UNDER EXEMPTION 6 OF THE FOIA. THIS DESPITE THE FACT THAT FEDERAL AGENCIES ROUTINELY MAKE PUBLIC SUCH GRANT INFORMATION AND THE U.S. OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT HAS LONG MADE SALARY INFORMATION ABOUT PUBLIC EMPLOYEES AVAILABLE.

KLIMKO IS AT THE MERCY OF THE HHS OFFICIALS BECAUSE HE HEADS A SMALL COMPANY THAT CANNOT AFFORD TO TAKE THE GOVERNMENT TO COURT.

KLIMKO’S SITUATION HIGHLIGHTS TWO OF THE MOST SERIOUS PROBLEMS OF THE CURRENT FOIA SYSTEM ARE, ONE, THE ABSENCE OF ANY GENUINELY SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES EITHER FOR AN INDIVIDUAL FEDERAL EMPLOYEE RESPONDING TO AN FOIA REQUEST OR FOR HIS OR HER AGENCY, AND, TWO, THE ABSENCE OF A NEUTRAL ARBITER WITH AUTHORITY TO MEDIATE DISPUTES BETWEEN AGENCIES AND REQUESTORS AND TO OVERSEE ADMINISTRATION OF THE FOIA. THE OPEN GOVERNMENT ACT OF 2005 ADDRESSES BOTH OF THESE PROBLEMS EFFECTIVELY AND REALISTICALLY IN MY JUDGMENT.

TO ADDRESS THE FIRST PROBLEM, THE ACT INCLUDES PROVISIONS PROVIDING THAT WHEN AN AGENCY MISSES A STATUTORY FOIA DEADLINE IT IS PRESUMED TO HAVE WAIVED THE RIGHT TO ASSERT VARIOUS EXEMPTIONS, EXCEPT IN CASES INVOLVING NATIONAL SECURITY, PERSONAL PRIVACY, PROPRIETARY COMMERCIAL INFORMATION OR OTHER REASONABLE EXCEPTIONS. THE AGENCY CAN ONLY OVERCOME THIS WAIVER BY PRESENTING CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT IT MISSED THE DEADLINE FOR GOOD CAUSE.

THE ACT ALSO PROVIDES ENHANCED AUTHORITY FOR THE OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL TO TAKE DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS FOUND BY A COURT TO HAVE ARBITRARILY AND CAPRICIOUSLY DENIED A REQUESTOR SEEKING INFORMATION THAT SHOULD BE DISCLOSED. THE ACT FURTHER REQUIRES THE ATTORNEY GENERAL TO INFORM THE OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL OF SUCH COURT FINDINGS AND TO REPORT TO CONGRESS ON THOSE FINDINGS. THE OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL IS ALSO REQUIRED TO ISSUE AN ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS ON ITS RESPONSE TO SUCH COURT FINDINGS.

TO ADDRESS THE SECOND PROBLEM, THE ACT ESTABLISHES THE OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SERVICES WITHIN THE ADMINISTRATIVE CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES, WHICH IS AN INDEPENDENT AGENCY AND ADVISORY BODY ESTABLISHED IN 1964 TO RECOMMEND IMPROVEMENTS TO CONGRESS AND EXECUTIVE BRANCH AGENCIES. MOST OF THE CONFERENCE’S MORE THAN 200 RECOMMENDED CHANGES HAVE BEEN ADOPTED, AT LEAST IN PART.

THIS OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT INFORMATION SERVICES WOULD FUNCTION AS AN FOIA OMBUDSMAN WITH AUTHORITY TO REVIEW AGENCY POLICIES AND PRACTICES IN ADMINISTERING THE FOIA, RECOMMEND POLICY CHANGES AND MEDIATE FOIA DISPUTES BETWEEN AGENCIES AND REQUESTORS.

IT IS MY HOPE THAT THOSE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS WHO CONSIDER THEMSELVES OF A CONSERVATIVE PERSUASION WILL PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO THE OPEN GOVERNMENT ACT OF 2005 BECAUSE IT CAN BE AN EFFECTIVE RESOURCE FOR RESTORING OUR GOVERNMENT TO ITS APPROPRIATE SIZE AND FUNCTIONS. SUNSHINE IS THE BEST DISINFECTANT NOT ONLY IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD, BUT PERHAPS EVEN MORE SO IN FIGHTING WASTE, FRAUD AND CORRUPTION IN GOVERNMENT AND IN PROTECTING PUBLIC SAFETY:

THIS IS WELL-ILLUSTRATED BY THESE RECENT EXAMPLES OF REPORTING MADE POSSIBLE BY THE FOIA:

· MIAMI’S 47 MPH “HURRICANE:” HURRICANE FRANCES MADE LANDFALL MORE THAN 100 MILES NORTH OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY LAST YEAR, BUT THAT DIDN’T STOP THOUSANDS OF RESIDENTS IN FLORIDA’S MOST POPULOUS COUNTY FROM RECEIVING NEARLY $28 MILLION IN FEDERAL DISASTER AID, ACCORDING TO THE FORT LAUDERDALE SUN-SENTINEL. USING THAT STATE’S FOIA, A TEAM OF SUN-SENTINEL REPORTERS FOUND THAT RESIDENTS USED THEIR RELIEF CHECKS TO PAY FOR THINGS LIKE 5,000 TELEVISIONS ALLEGEDLY DESTROYED BY FRANCES, AS WELL AS 1,440 AIR CONDITIONERS, 1,360 TWIN BEDS, 1,311 WASHERS AND DRYERS AND 831 DINING ROOM SETS. ALL THIS DESPITE THE FACT FRANCES’ TOP WINDS REACHED ONLY 47 MPH IN THE MIAMI-DADE AREA.
· ILLEGAL ALIENS CONVICTED OF HORRIBLE CRIMES: LOTS OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT FEDERAL LAW REQUIRES ILLEGAL ALIENS CONVICTED OF HEINOUS CRIMES LIKE RAPE, MURDER, CHILD MOLESTATION HERE IN AMERICA TO BE DEPORTED ONCE THEY'VE SERVED THEIR JAIL TERMS. UNFORTUNATELY, IT APPEARS THAT THOUSANDS SUCH ALIENS MAY NOW BE WANDERING A STREET NEAR YOUR HOME OR YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL BECAUSE FEDERAL IMMIGRATION OFFICIALS FAILED TO SHOW UP WHEN THESE CRIMINALS WERE RELEASED FROM JAIL. EVEN WORSE, ACCORDING TO COX NEWSPAPERS WASHINGTON BUREAU REPORTERS ELIOT JASPIN AND JULIA MALONE, THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT WON’T RELEASE A GOVERNMENT DATABASE THAT COULD HELP JOURNALISTS AND PRIVATE CITIZENS HELP OFFICIALS FIND THESE ALIENS.

IN CLOSING, IT SHOULD ALSO BE NOTED THAT THE PUBLIC DEMAND FOR TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT IS LIKELY TO INCREASE IN THE FUTURE AS THE INTERNET BECOMES THE DOMINANT FORM OF COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY. MILLIONS OF GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS HAVE BEEN MADE PUBLIC VIA THE INTERNET IN RECENT YEARS AND THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE ASKING FOR ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS IS LIKELY TO INCREASE, THANKS TO THE GROWTH OF INTERNET-BASED NEWS SITES, INCLUDING ESPECIALLY BLOGGERS CONCERNED WITH PUBLIC POLICY ISSUES.

WE ARE INDEED FIGHTING A GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM THAT PUTS UNUSUAL DEMANDS ON THE FOIA SYSTEM. CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS ALIKE SHOULD ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT AN EVER EXPANSIVE, EVER-MORE INTRUSIVE GOVERNMENT IS ULTIMATELY ANTITHETICAL TO THE PRESERVATION OF INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY AND DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS.

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