I was always under the impression growing up that what is called the "fourth estate;" the media, reporters, newspapers, television news, had a mission to question government, dig into possible government corruption, and provide citizens with a factual account of events that affected their lives. And, when I took journalism classes I was taught to be objective and simply print the facts. You know, the old who, what, why, when and how questions.
It's clear that has all disappeared into today's world. On the world, national, and state level, media outlets seem more interested in carrying out the propaganda of governments and political parties. In tyrannical dictatorships, the government writes all the stories, and no one disputes what they say under the threat of punishment and even death.
At the local level, one would assume that reporters may have a little more accountability toward their subscribers. That assumption seems to be incorrect.
In our little town on Maryland's Eastern Shore, it's become clear in recent years that our tiny government is operating on its own agenda. The citizens have become quite angry about this and have demanded more transparency. It has happened at almost every town meeting. (Links to stories about these government actions are at the bottom of this article.)
There have been many Public Information Act requests filed with our town government in the last 6 months. It seems that this has annoyed some of our Town Commissioners and employees. It was no surprise the other night when another PIA request was read into the minutes of the town meeting. This request was based on a reliably sourced rumor regarding a possible hiring of another town employee. The filer wanted to know if the rumor was true. The filer requested all possible paperwork regarding this rumored hiring and of recent hirings in our town.
That is what Public Information Act requests are for, right? They are the avenue by which citizens can find out what is true and what is not. A PIA request demands that governments supply citizens with information. From the Maryland Attorney General's website on PIA's:
The Maryland Public Information Act is based on the enduring principle that
public knowledge of government activities is critical to the functioning of a
democratic society; that a Government of the people, by the people, and for the
people must be open to the people. Members of the public need and deserve complete
information as they make the decisions and form the opinions that determine our future
path, and the Act ensures that those needs are met fairly and expeditiously while protecting
important privacy rights and other public policy goals. Overview.pdf (marylandattorneygeneral.gov)
Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?
Yet governments seem threatened by it. In our town, those in charge seem to take great offense anytime they are questioned or asked for facts. When a citizen asks a simple question or files a simple request, it should be answered. That's what the Maryland Public Information Act is for.
In our town they are so offended by a request that they enlist the support of local reporters in an attempt to embarrass and silence citizens who dare to ask questions. Here is an article written by local reporter Maggie Trovato from the STAR DEMOCRAT:
The full headline of this article is: Oxford Fights back on false rumor on secretary. ( It's not even a good headline)
The article is not listed as opinion. It is written as a straight news story. No context about the event is shared and the sources are one sided.
The interesting part about this article is that the reporter wasn't present at the town meeting where this occurred. So, one wonders where she got her facts? Who gave her the idea to embarrass and intimidate a private citizen?
This article, printed below the fold on the front page of the hard copy newspaper, could not be found on the online site for the Star Democrat.
There was an interesting story from the meeting. It was discussion between one Commissioner, Katrina Greer and the Town Manager about the possibility of moving Oxford's bank accounts from their current bank to the Maryland Local Government Investment Pool which, if it had been done three months ago, would have earned the town $28,000 in additional income. This story seems like one a good reporter could really sink her teeth into, finding out what the Investment Pool is, why it could earn more money and what the plusses and minuses of doing so would be. It could also provide a chance to do an investigation of WHY the Town Manager and others are against taking that action.
Somehow the reporter found the Commissioner's comment about a PIA request regarding the rumored hiring much more interesting. Not interesting enough to actually interview all parties or get all the facts, though. Just interesting enough to meet the needs of a town government as they hope to silence citizen voices. Just enough to believe exactly what the President of the Commissioners told her.
None of us should be surprised by this. The last ten years have shown us that the mainstream media in this country has been severely compromised by political parties, foreign powers, and multi-national corporations. Even this small newspaper, the Star Democrat, is one small part of the Adams Publishing Group out of Coon Rapids, Minnesota. They own 27 dailies, 90 non-daily, and 220 media-related products across 19 states.
What's surprising is that as people have stopped relying on mainstream media and subscriptions are down because of flawed reporting, these newspapers haven't gotten the message. Whether this reporter wrote this story because of bias, laziness or incompetence doesn't matter. What matters is that she gave one side of a story and believed the statements of one town official blindly. And she achieved exactly what the government wanted instead of the truth. And she aided in the public suppression of PIA requests.
Richard Nixon would have loved her.
From the Federal Government: Intimidating someone from doing a Public Information Act request is illegal. According to the 18 U.S. Code § 1512, whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding shall be punished as provided in paragraph (3). In the case of the threat of use of physical force against any person, imprisonment for not more than 20 years1.
The author of this article has written to both the reporter who wrote this story and her superiors for their comments. No responses as of publication