Public Watchdog.org

Maybe Not “Fake News”…But Nowhere Close To The Whole Truth

01.05.18

In our most recent post we wrote about our wish for more H.I.T.A. from our units of local government in 2018. We also observed how televised and videotaped meetings have compensated for “sketchy” reporting by our local newspapers.

Not surprisingly, an anonymous commenter to that post accused us of being unfair to our local press on our way to playing the “fake news” card.

So what a fortuitous coincidence it is that an article in this week’s Park Ridge Journal just happens to provide a timely illustration of how the local press subtly – or not so subtly – attempts to influence opinions rather than just report the facts.

The article in question, “Library Board Gears Up For New Director Candidates” (Jan. 3), is by Anne Lunde, who has covered local government in Park Ridge for as long as we can remember.

Throughout her career Ms. Lunde has displayed a decided bias favoring governmental bodies – the bigger, more expansive and more expensive, the better – first at the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and currently at the Journal. This being Illinois, and Ms. Lunde being an unapologetic Chicagophile, that means her views are about as anti-H.I.T.A. as possible.

To which, of course, she is entitled as a citizen.

As an experienced journalist, however, she has learned how to promote her bias in nuanced ways intended to be undetected by the casual reader, which she gets to do from a media platform not generally available to the ordinary citizen. It’s not what the current POTUS criticizes as “fake news,” but it’s also a far cry from what legendary WaPo reporter Carl Bernstein described as good reporting: “[T]he best attainable version of the truth.”

In order to understand and fully appreciate Ms. Lunde’s advocacy in what should be objective fact reportage, one needs to deconstruct and analyze her article, virtually paragraph by paragraph.

The first two paragraphs subtly attribute the Library Board’s “losing their top finalists” for the director position to its “[e]fforts to be very transparent.”

What’s her favored remedy to prevent losing future finalists? A third paragraph that extols “interviews in closed session” followed by “deliberat[ing] in closed session” before “return[ing] to deliberate in a separate closed session and determin[ing] a salary offer in closed session” – the process adopted by a majority of Library trustees at their December 19th meeting.

That might be a record for use of “closed session” in one paragraph, at least when the author is not condemning them. And Ms. Lunde isn’t about to condemn a closed session: In her view of government, which she has shared with this blog’s editor on several occasions over the past decade, closed sessions and behind-the-scenes schmoozing are how government gets things done.

Which is why her final paragraph attempts to excuse those secretive closed sessions by pointing out that the Library Board – after interviewing the candidates outside the public’s view, after deliberating about the candidates’ qualifications and suitability outside the public’s view, and after debating and deciding the salary and benefits to be offered the candidate outside the public’s view – still has to conduct the actual vote on hiring the chosen candidate in open session.

Big whoop. That’s the absolute barest minimum transparency required by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). But IOMA’s bare minimum is apparently what a utopian government looks like to Ms. Lunde.

In our opinion, however, Ms. Lunde’s most devious journalistic device resides in her shortest paragraph, of only five words, about those closed sessions: “There was not universal agreement.”

What’s so “devious” about that? Because it is the truth but not the whole truth.

The lack of the whole truth advances Ms. Lunde’s political agenda at the expense of honest journalism – about which conservative public intellectual Thomas Sowell warned thusly:

“If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.”

How does she advance her political agenda at the expense of her journalism?

Simple: By not identifying the dissenters – Library trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Mike Reardon, whom we identified in our 12.26.17 post – and thereby marginalizing them and their dissent.

She knows that Egan, Foss-Eggemann and Reardon are the Library Board’s strongest H.I.T.A. proponents. She also knows that they are well respected by many members of this community. Because of that, she knows that identifying them by name would likely cause folks who know and respect them to question the legitimacy of those closed sessions, as well as the judgment of the members of the Board majority – Karen Burkum, Steve Dobrilovic, Josh Keim, Garreth Kennedy, Pat Lamb and Judy Rayborn – who prefer to hide from their constituents in such sessions.

So she reports the bare fact of the dissent but leaves the dissenters numberless and nameless. That also helps their fellow trustees escape scrutiny for their anti-H.I.T.A. beliefs, policies and conduct – like the bogus, chicken-bleep “survey” of their closed-session hiring process instead of an actual vote on adopting it. That way, the majority gains the political cover of not having a public record of their actual votes for more closed sessions.

You can watch that discussion on the meeting video, starting at the 29:45 mark and ending at the 53:45 mark.

So while we hope for more H.I.T.A. from our local governments in 2018, the same is sorely needed from our local press. Which reminds us of a quote from Pres. John F. Kennedy that Ms. Lunde and the Library Board should consider:

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.”

If Lunde and the Library Board majority actually care about “a free and open society” – or, at least, care about it more than they do about pandering to the anti-H.I.T.A. propensities of mercenary headhunter John Keister and about hiding from their constituents – they sure have an odd way of showing it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Our Wish For 2018: More H.I.T.A.

01.02.18

It was back in 2009 that then-alderman Dave Schmidt, with less than two years’ of City Council experience under his belt, decided to challenge first-term mayor Howard Frimark’s bid for re-election. Schmidt’s political platform became embodied in the acronym: “H.I.T.A.”: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

Honesty, as in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Schmidt, a trial attorney, was familiar with that concept because it’s part of the oath witnesses take when testifying in a court of law. Too many politicians don’t seem to discover it until they hear it repeated by the witnesses testifying against them or their colleagues in federal corruption trials.

Integrity, as in firm adherence to a code of conduct or ethical values. Schmidt’s code of government was simple: The best government that Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay for.

Transparency, as in an openness characterized by the sharing of important information with the citizenry so that it can hold its governing officials accountable. Even before he came up with H.I.T.A., Schmidt walked his transparency talk by blowing the whistle on questionable Frimarkian closed-session discussions about the City’s acquisition of 720 Garden.

Accountability, as in the assumption of responsibility for the policies, decisions and actions; and the obligation to be answerable to the citizenry for them. Schmidt proved how that works on several occasions by admitting, and publicly apologizing for, mistakes he made; and promising not to make them again. And he didn’t.

H.I.T.A.’s an easy philosophy to understand and implement – assuming that you actually believe in the concepts and want to abide by them. But if you’re a “politician,” it’s your worst enemy. Which is why so few embrace it, and why others fear it so much that they mock it in the hope of undermining its legitimacy in the minds of the citizenry.

There was a bit of mockery (“Who would ever want to watch that?”) almost two decades ago when this editor, who served on the Park Ridge Park District board from 1997 to 2005, led that body in becoming the first unit of local government to videotape meetings so that taxpayers no longer had to rely solely on slanted and/or sketchy newspaper articles, or sketchy meeting minutes.

Schmidt followed that lead when he became mayor in 2009, using some of his mayoral salary to buy the camera that was mounted on the back wall of the Council chambers; and using some of his mayoral goodwill to enlist a couple of supporters to run the camera and upload the videos onto the Internet before the City’s website could accommodate them.

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 followed suit in August 2011 after Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann, Susan Sweeney and friends showed up at a meeting with their own video camera, embarrassing a reluctant school board into doing what it had previously resisted. And, as we recall, the Maine Township High School District 207 board finally jumped on that bandwagon a couple/few years later.

This editor also spearheaded bringing video to the Library Board meetings in 2015. And Ms. Sweeney – with the assistance of fellow newly-elected trustees Dave Carrabotta and Claire McKenzie – was instrumental in getting that backwater of local government, Maine Township, to videotape its board meetings after they were elected to that board last April.

Why is H.I.T.A. so important when it comes to government?

Because, unlike in most organizations where the people at the bottom are accountable to the people at the top, in government it’s supposed to be the reverse: The people at the top are supposed to be accountable – at least in theory – to the people at the bottom.

What’s problematic about that situation, however, is that it’s the people at the top – the elected and appointed officials, and the public employee bureaucrats – who have most of the resources (money provided, ironically, by the people at the bottom; and manpower provided by public employees both on and off the taxpayers’ clock) needed to manipulate the information flowing to the people at the bottom, thereby manipulating their beliefs and opinions.

That’s why H.I.T.A. and its accoutrements – like published-in-advance meeting packets, videotaped meetings and keeping closed sessions to the barest legal minimum – are essential if we are to avoid what has been recently been described as a “post-truth society”: Where special interests at both ends of the political spectrum wallow in their own (usually woefully incomplete) facts and create their own ideological “echo chambers” such as can be observed on both Fox News and MSNBC, and even from time to time in our own local newspapers.

Which is why we concur with Glenn Greenwald: “Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power,…its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote.”

Along with Honesty, Integrity and Accountability, of course.

To read or post comments, click on title.