Archive for December, 2009

A story worth telling, preserving

If you haven’t seen the Sigma Delta Chi web presentation in which the noble history of our beloved organization is outlined and longtime member Helen Thomas makes a passion plea to keep our mission alive, well, you are missing out on a great story as well as an excellent appeal for donations.

The message showed up in my email basket with a rather innocuous email label – SDX message. When you are accustomed to getting about 70 SPJ emails a day as the president, everything starts to blend together. I didn’t know this was coming. I wasn’t expecting what would open on my computer screen when I clicked on it. But, there before my eyes unfolded a marvelous animated tale.

As I sat there looking at photos of our founding fathers and watched as 100 years of Sigma Delta Chi/Society of Professional Journalist unfolded before me, I got goose bumps. I felt an enormous sense of pride and a greater sense of responsibility as your leader. A lot has been entrusted to your current leadership. And, yes, when Thomas started telling her audience of how wonderful and valuable SPJ has been these last 100 years in the battles for press freedoms and in setting the highest ethics standards, I got a bit misty eyed.

We are 100 years old. There are not many journalism organizations that can make that claim. The principles we’ve coveted and have made us strong these past 100 years, will be the ones which continue to make us a force over the next century. It’s been my distinct privilege to be a member of SPJ the last 30 years. It’s my greatest honor to be your current president.

I hope you take a few minutes out of your busy day and watch this wonderful tale. I hope you get goose bumps as well and I hope you take Thomas’ advice to make a financial pledge to SDX so we can continue our missions. Thanks to Amy Posavac for coordinating this marvelous presentation.

We have so much to be proud of. We have so much to be thankful for and we have so much to protect and improve upon. Won’t you please do your part and keep our grand story alive?

Sessions resorts for fear mongering on shield bill

If U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions proved anything this week it’s that he can’t be relied on to be a reliable source of information to the press and his public, anonymous or not.

Sessions, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has worked tirelessly the last 19 weeks with other Republicans to hold the Free Flow of Information Bill, S-448, hostage. Thursday, after weeks of stall tactics were exhausted and the barrage of amendments (nearly 30 total ) were defeated, the bill was moved to the full senate for consideration.

Not long after the vote, Sessions dug into his bag of political tricks and resorted to mischaracterizations, misinformation and fear mongering. His attempt is clear – unable to claim victory after nearly five months of debate, he wants to scare the people of Alabama into hating the press and stem the flow of information from the government to its people.

To characterize this bill as Sessions has done as a mechanism by which terrorists, rapists and child predators will be protected from investigators because of the press is patently wrong as is a dishonest attempt to create fear and gain support in Alabama when he couldn’t in senate chambers.

The Free Flow of Information bill provides journalists a shield from having to reveal their anonymous sources when stories of public interest are disseminated. This is not an absolute privilege and never has been. Many states provide protection for anonymous sources but there has never been such protection on a national level. 

Sessions isn’t truthful when he says that between 1994-2006 only 19 journalists were subpoenaed for their sources. A study by a Brigham Young University law professor shows that in 2006 alone, there were more than 3,000 nationwide. And the Department of Justice, which Sessions says rarely uses this legal reach, accounted for 335 in that single year.

When Sessions says that this is an imminent danger to national security and writes “the rejections of these and other amendments recklessly imperils the security of our citizens and our soldiers and leaves in place a bill that is deeply and fundamentally flawed,” he is mischaracterizing the bill’s language and its function.  National security measures have been carefully written into this bill. They’ve been there since the beginning and no journalist, compelled to come before a judge, can invoke the shield law when the information is militarily or criminally sensitive. A judge gets to apply a balancing test to determine what the public gets to know. Sessions would prefer that you get to know nothing.

When the senator contends that this doesn’t have the support of the intelligence and defense community, he is exaggerating to continue this fear mongering. Initial objects were voiced, amendments were added and this bill has the blessing of the Obama administration and letters of support exist from key prosecuting and intelligence leaders. He knows this, yet he clings to a secret covey of informants from the last administration, to tell him differently.

If information is the key to power, Sessions would have you believe that the real power in this country can never lie within its informed electorate, but must be tightly gripped by the government. Sessions has made it clear that he wants to safeguard as much government information as he can and news stories that unveil government corruption and misdeed have to remain secret.

As Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said to Sessions when the Alabama senator complained about the title of the bill, “I rather like the idea of a flow of information from the government to the public in a democracy.”


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