By Doug Porter
The Senate Judiciary Committee agreed yesterday to consider legislation sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. offering some protections to journalists from government demands for identification of sources used in news accounts.
What the committee could not agree on was what exactly defines a journalist. Schumer’s proposal has a definition spanning four pages and defining reporters as persons “with the primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national or international events or other matters of public interest,” collecting information by conducting interviews and directly observing events, and having the intent of gathering news.
That wasn’t good enough for Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, who, along with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-IL, is, proposing an amendment to narrow the definition. “I’m concerned this would provide special privilege to those who are not reporters at all” said Feinstein “I believe it should be applied to real reporters.” Her definition would limit protections to persons who are salaried employees of news organizations.
Schumer disagreed, saying he thought his legislation had a tight enough definition of who would be protected by the law. “The bottom line is the world has changed, and we’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected,” Schumer said. “Wikileaks and all those others are not protected.”
The Senate meeting adjourned yesterday amid general agreement that further discussions would take place after the August recess.
While a federal shield law may offer some limited protections for ‘professionals’, what it’s really going to accomplish is to limit the First Amendment rights of those who don’t meet the government’s rather narrow litmus test if Senator Feinstein has her way.
Now let’s talk about the real reason why all this is being talked about: citizen journalism.
As we’ve seen time and time again -from the New York Times’ complicity in the propaganda campaign in the run up to the invasion of Iraq to the campaign to recall the current Mayor of San Diego- the symbiotic relationships between ‘professional’ news organizations and the institutions they report on can and does cause a lot of ‘not really reporting’ to go on.
It’s all about “everybody knows”. Everybody knew there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And now everybody knows the City of San Diego will go to hell in a handbasket unless Mayor Filner resigns. Will the last professional journalist in the room please question something before turning out the lights on this story?
San Diego’s Compliant Press
Since I’ve brought up the subject of the local media’s compliance with the campaign to unseat the Mayor, let’s dive right in. This isn’t about what the mayor has or hasn’t done. It’s about the assumption that we’re obligated to do more than let the judicial process take place.
IF we had an honest media outlet in San Diego, one of these so called ‘professional’ reporters would be challenging the second part of this statement:
The San Diego Business Leadership Alliance, an organization of 44 business groups including the chamber, voted unanimously Thursday in favor of Filner resigning immediately.
Bill Geppert, the alliance’s co-chairman and a former Cox Communications executive, said the organization is appalled by the allegations against Filner.
“If true, they demean the office to an alarming degree,” Geppert said. “Second, we are convinced that this crisis has done serious damage to the city of San Diego’s business climate. Our tourism marketing industry has been gutted, the Film Commission has been disbanded, the Chargers stadium talks are dead in the water, developers are being put in difficult positions or are simply not pursuing important projects. This must stop.”
Nowhere in the story including the above quote (from UT-San Diego, but widely reported in a nearly identical manner elsewhere) is there any questioning of how the Mayor’s bad behavior connects with the so-called economic ‘damage’ being done.
That’s because there isn’t any connection. Zip. Nada. Nothing.
Once again, for those of you who haven’t kept up on this stuff:
- The city’s Tourism Marketing Authority is having a financial crisis. While hotels are continuing to collect a 2% “fee” on room charges, the city government is releasing only those funds collected from properties who have signed a waiver protecting taxpayers from liability should two lawsuits challenging the legality of the fee system prevail.
- The waiver agreement was negotiated between the City government and area hoteliers earlier this year. Hotels have been slow to live up to their end of the deal, refusing to play along, citing corporate financial policies. But that’s not what’s really going on here. Now that these businesses can no longer walk away from the deal and stiff San Diego taxpayers, their fee scheme doesn’t look like such a good deal.
What’s the connection with the Mayor’s bad reputation? Are John Oliver’s or Conan O’Brien’s hilarious takes on Filner driving away business?
As to the other ‘examples’ cited by the Business Leadership Alliance, I say show me the money (or lack thereof). They won’t because they can’t.
But it’s reported as gospel: KPBS, yup. Voice of San Diego even stirred the pot a bit, running a story on Monday calling out the city’s business leaders who hadn’t called for the Mayor’s resignation. Of course, the story didn’t directly condemn anybody by name; it merely noted that there wasn’t much activity going on in the business community.
Lo and behold, three days later business leaders are scrambling all over themselves to make sure everybody knows they’re on the resignation bandwagon.
Spinning the Recall
When news is reported that ‘doesn’t go with the flow’, it’s seems to be simply stood on its head.
Take, for instance, VOSD’s reporting on the ‘scandalous’ request by Filner’s attorney for the city to cover his legal expenses. It’s a good story. It even shoots down my quote a few days back questioning why the City was defending dirty cops and not the Mayor.
You wouldn’t know from most of the reporting (elsewhere) on this issue that governments are required by law to defend employees and elected officials from civil lawsuits. The Voice article even provides a handy jpeg image of the legal language.
It turns out that, according to this article, the Mayor’s ‘friends’ in the City Attorney’s office decreed that there was an anomaly in Filner’s case that justified a lack of support.
Then there’s the money quote:
Several attorneys, including two who previously worked for the city, say the city’s decision not to pay Filner’s legal bills differs drastically from the city’s usual approach.
Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre and his former chief deputy, Maria Severson, reflected on past cases after learning of the Council’s decision not to foot Filner’s legal bills.
“We could not think of a single case where the city did not provide a defense,” Aguirre said.
I’m not a lawyer. Maybe the City Attorney’s office (which has a mediocre track record, for whatever that’s worth) is right. But the act of askingfor legal backing has been characterized as outrageous. It’s not. It’s normal. And usually granted.
Somehow that part of the story gets second place here. “Everybody knows” Filner’s legal beagle asking for city backing was insane, right?
The Dual Recall Conspiracy
I’ve been checking the VOSD website pretty regularly since LGBT Weekly publisher Stampp Corbin published an essay denouncing their coverage yesterday, but so far no response. (I’ll link to it, when and if it appears)
Here’s a snippet of the VOSD coverage that provoked Corbin, who is backing of one of the Recall petitions:
One of San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s most ardent supporters has taken the first steps to recall him, possibly foreclosing other efforts to kick out the embattled mayor.
Corbin’s publication was one of the most faithful backers of Filner’s mayoral bid, specifically in its reporting on Filner’s opponent Carl DeMaio, who is openly gay. LGBT Weekly purported to reveal private details of DeMaio’s relationship with rival gay media publisher Johnathan Hale and pushed a theory that Hale was involved in the Balboa Park lily pond vandalism despite there being no evidence.
Most recently, LGBT Weekly columnist Nicole Murray Ramirez attended the Pride events with Filner and cast doubt on the reasons Filner’s ex-fiancee left him earlier this month.
I don’t know much about Corbin. The theory that his parallel petition would sabotage other more serious efforts has been debunked by the City Attorney. His relationship with the City does go back into the Mayor Jerry Sanders era, so articles (elsewhere) calling him out for service on the Citizen’s Equal Opportunity Commission as proof of his leanings are just plain wrong.
It is obvious anger in this essay does speak to the kind of spin going on with the whole Filner falderal. (Do click through and read the whole thing)
It is so disappointing when you grant an interview to what you discover is a reporter with an agenda. Voice of San Diego (VOSD) wrote an article about the Mayor Filner recall that was so inaccurate, I won’t even begin to address their political agenda.
It is hard for the politicians and media in San Diego to understand what it is like to have someone who has no hidden agenda. Why? Because so many have one themselves. When VOSD called me the first thing the reporter said was didn’t you work for the Obama campaign?
I immediately understood she was trying to paint me as some Democratic operative. When I said, “You should do your research, I also supported Jerry Sanders in the 2008 election,” she was dumbfounded.
That’s right; I supported a Republican for mayor and a Democrat for president, as did many San Diegans. Since I have become the publisher of San Diego LGBT Weekly, I inform our community about what candidates think about LGBT equality. What I don’t do is try to tell you how to vote; or more importantly, how I will vote.
My Fantasy Picks for Next Week’s Events
Since I can see that many ‘professional’ journalists are working so hard on the Filner story, I have some predictions for BREAKING NEWS next week:
- Monday: San Diego State wrestling team will appear on KPBS, saying Filner’s giving headlocks a bad name. Trent Seibert of UT-San Diego will report City sanitation engineers are saying Mayor’s garbage stinks.
- Tuesday: Logan Jennings at UT-San Diego will feature interviews with prominent Catholics saying Filner can’t be saved and is going straight to hell. 10News will file a report about Jihadists Against Filner’s fundraising efforts in the recall campaign. Unitarians have no comment over at KUSI.
- Wednesday: CycloSDias bike event organizers will tell VOSD they have agreed to festoon route with nooses hanging from lampposts to prove they really, really want Filner to resign. City Beat will announce contest for ‘Best Martin Luther King Quote That Seems Relevant to Bob Filner These Days’.
- Thursday: The Restaurant Association will hold a presser announcing ‘No Beef for Bob’campaign designed to reassure patrons afraid the Mayor might pop up at their favorite eatery and do something disgusting. MicroBrewers will chime in, saying current climate in San Diego is making local beers too bitter.
- Friday: Local comedy clubs will be featured in UT-San Diego entertainment section, complaining business is down due to all the good jokes being told on TV. VOSD will run the ‘mother of all string charts’ detailing connections between everybody who hasn’t called for a Filner resignation. (SDFP will get left off)
On This Day: 1776 – Members of the Continental Congress began adding their signatures to the Declaration of Independence. 1962 – Robert Zimmerman legally changed his name to Bob Dylan. 1983 – U.S. House of Representatives approved a law that designated the third Monday of January would be a federal holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The law was signed by President Reagon on November 2.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@