Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Malloy Gets Huffy And Puffy With Connecticut’s Media – Because He Can

Governor Dannel Malloy – former New York State prosecutor, former Mayor of Stamford, Connecticut, a progressive, chief of the gayest administration in Connecticut history, architect of both the largest and second largest tax increases in state history, “Porcupine” (a self-description popularized by political humorist Colin McEnroe) – recently turned off the light during press conference on the budget, the most expensive in state history.

Mr. Malloy had been taking questions on the budget, each reporter being given one. A short follow-up session occurred. The interrogatory took about thirty minutes, at which point Mr. Malloy and communications director Mark Berman proposed that the remained of the briefing should be conducted “off the record.” Reporters were asked whether they were comfortable with such an arrangement. When Waterbury Republican American reporter Paul Hughes expressed his discomfort, Mr. Malloy said he could leave. There was no point in continuing to object, since Mr. Malloy and his communication director had settled upon an “off the record” communication. Mr. Hughes quietly departed.

It is ludicrous for a governor to refuse to answer questions publicly on a matter that affects every man, woman, transgender and child in the state. And closing down an “on the record” discussion thirty minutes after the subject had been openly discussed is highly unorthodox, a first in an administration that regrettably is nearly first in high taxes, unbalanced budgets, multi-billion dollar programs stretching out over thirty years, excessive borrowing, political insularity and obfuscation. “Off the record” discussions prohibit reporters from mentioning any details concerning the discussion; the matter under discussion is “not for publication, broadcast or attribution.”

Politicians “go of the record” for a variety of reasons. They might want to speak candidly for once, a refreshing change from the usual scripted palaver. Or they might want to inject political anti-bodies into the information stream. In “off the record” remarks, however, no politician ever expects statements made to a muzzled media to be without effect. The question therefore arises: Who benefits from such invisible, inaudible, non-public and un-recordable transactions? Friendly “off the record” chats between journalists and politicians changes shared data from hard fact to unattributed rumor.

Questions may be honestly put -- or not. But the "off the record" agreement between a reporter and a politician permits both the politician and the reporter to evade their essential responsibilities. Reporters especially are at a severe disadvantage in such Faustian exchanges. The business of a reporter is to report, and the report must be objectively true; that is to say, the report must objectively and disinterestedly mirror reality. Friendship and private unorthodox relations between the two makes it impossible for the reporter "to see the thing right under his nose," which is, George Orwell said, the most difficult thing for a writer to do.  

Mr. Hughes was not alone in objecting to an “off the record” account of matters of public moment. What, after all, is the point of attending a media availability at which none of the information imparted may find its way into news reports when the subject under discussion is a budget? Several journalists -- Susan Haigh, the Capitol reporter for The Associated Press, Daniela Altimari of the Hartford Courant and Steve Kotckho of Connecticut Radio Network – also bolted the propaganda session. Whenever a journalist discovers his spine, the angels in Heaven sing Hallelujah.

John Milton, the author of “Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parliament of England,” perhaps the most passionate defense of the often assaulted principle of the right to freedom of speech and expression, were he present at Mr. Malloy's gagfest, would have followed Mr. Hughes out the door.

The Areopagitica itself opens with a quote from Euripides:

This is true liberty, when free-born men,
Having to advise the public, may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;
Who neither can, nor will, may hold his peace:
What can be juster in a state than this?

If the Milton quote is too remote for modern politicians, they might give some thought to a quote from Chris Dodd – former U.S. Senator from Connecticut, the co-author with then U.S. Representative  Barney Frank of the little read 2,319 page Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,  lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America, and, it is rumored, a possible ambassador to Cuba.  “When the public's right to know is threatened,” said Mr. Dodd, “and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”

If Mr. Dodd is appointed Cuban Ambassador, following President Barack Obama’s presidential order reversing more than a half century of U.S. policy towards the Castro brothers' Communist state, he may be able to put to good use his own sentiments regarding all the liberties we here in the United States commonly practice – when they are not under assault by Governor Porcupine.
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