Let me start this post off by saying if you haven't been reading Slabbed...you're the only one....so go there now and catch up.
The series of events that have transpired in the NOLA political landscape as of late have me thinking about politics, justice, the media and how they all interact. Since the storm, we've seen local media and law enforcement entities focus their attention on rooting out corruption among political offices and governmental agencies. Recently we've seen the local media shift their focus, thanks to Fred Heebe, on possible "corruption" (that doesn't necessarily mean illegality) within the local U.S Attorneys' Office, itself.
And thanks to the Newhouse cull we've even seen local media, for a brief moment, reluctantly turn the spotlight on itself and this is the matter I want to address in this post.
We saw panel after panel discussing what the effects of the Times-Picayune "downsizing" would be, as well as numerous editorial pieces from local blogs like this one to the national media outlets like the NYT. Occasionally, issues of possible ethical matters among our local media resources were discussed in some of those conversations but all in all that particular discussion was a rarity. I suppose that's because it's rather uncomfortable for media folk to turn the lens on themselves or the entity writing their paychecks and question matters of integrity.
Perhaps the most outstanding moment in the past few years where this issue arose was the discovery that WWL talk radio host, Garland Robinette, took a 100k loan from River Birch landfill operator, Fred Heebe. What was interesting about that scandal was that not only did WWL throw their unwavering support behind Garlandfill without questioning him, they barely even addressed the matter. For a media entity that advertised their hosts as "People you trust", WWL's dead silence on the Heebe "loan" to Robinette was deafening. How do you trust a self-aggrandized entity touting "trustworthiness" that doesn't address dishonesty within its own ranks?
More recently, Nola.com has taken the stage front and center in the ongoing Fred Heebe investigation when Heebe's defense team outed two (kind of three) members of Jim Letten's U.S. Attorneys' Office.
Apparently a swami syntax analyst was able to look into his crystal ball and discern that the same person, Sal Perricone, had written over 500 comments on Nola.com under five different pseudonyms. All this sleuthing was supposedly accomplished without access to the IP addresses of the commenter. Did I mention that two of those pseudonyms only had two comments each?
Wowza...that syntax dude, James Fitzgerald, is a genius and the paper even pointed out that he had helped reveal the identity of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) by using the same method. Eerrrr...except that Kaczynki's brother is really the one that actually outed him as the terrorist so they already had a pretty good idea of who wrote the material before they analyzed it. In this case, with Perricone, we are being led to believe that the sleuthing was done purely by Fitzgerald's talents alone.
That's the difference between going fishing, blindfolded, in the Gulf, without any bait, to catch a Bluefin Tuna or simply going to Rouses' seafood section.
Jan Mann and her husband Jim Mann have also been named as commenters but I'm still not clear as to how that information was liberated by Team Heebe. Believe it or not, there is a fourth commenter from Letten's office that may or may not come to light now that Letten has resigned.
Still, there is word a fifth "government" commenter may exist although not in Letten's office and not necessarily related to the Heebe case. If this commenter comes to light, it could be absolutely earth shattering.
Question(s)....how are all these people being outed? How is their actual identity being confirmed, and by who, without access to the IP addresses? If the IP addresses were used, is that an invasion of privacy as dictated by Nola.com's own commenting policy at the time the comments were made?
I. We reserve the right to identify you from your Registration Information and/or to merge or co-mingle anonymous or non-personally identifiable data about you, your offline and online behavior, and/or your computer, mobile or other device (including its geographic location), with your Registration Information and/or other personally identifiable data for any lawful business purpose.
"non-personally Identifiable....for lawful business purpose."
Another question...where is the line drawn when it comes to a prosecutor's right to the 1st amendment? You can damn well bet there are astroturfers commenting for Heebe on Nola.com, is that not just as unethical and influential to the case as the prosecution commenting? In that vein, I would recommend reading this excellent thought provoking post by IgnatiusJeffReilly.
Final question...why the hell would anyone, ever again, remotely consider commenting on Nola.com? Even if you're not a DOJ employee. This is a serious question, I'm not just asking it to dis Nola.com. I'm asking this question because I think we now have an enormous deterrent for people who have information on corruption to anonymously comment in online public forums and I think that hurts our democracy.
Ask yourself this question, "Would this city have seen the number of prosecutions we've seen in the past 6 years without the internet, blogs and community participation, the option of anonymity included?" In fact, please answer that question in the comment section. I am curious what people think and I promise I will never, under any circumstances, divulge your identity...even if you want me to.
While we're in the midst of putting federal prosecutors and corrupt politicos alike under the microscope, perhaps the media entities' role in the equation should also be more closely examined. After all, we're putting all our trust in their hands to tell us the truth. As is the case with WWL...we know they're not going to put themselves under the microscope. With the revamped Nola.com....we're already seeing some rather disturbing trends as Jeffrey and Gambit's Kevin Allman allude to.
And after reading Jeffrey's post, I would be amiss if I didn't point out a bit of recent snarky hypocrisy on Nola.com's part.
Drew Broach was quick to jump on the Advocate for publishing a ridiculously transparent push-piece on John Young a couple of months ago. I'm curious if Broach happened to read the ridiculously transparent push-piece his own paper published a few weeks earlier for a local politically connected business. Funny how the TP failed to mention that there is more than a handful of local companies competing for the same business as the one highlighted in this article.
Is this the brave Newhouse world? The new exciting stuff we've never seen before? Is the Newhouse standard to publish push-pieces for politically connected companies but not the politicians themselves? I guess they may be right....perhaps we haven't seen that selective standard before.
I have a hunch focus is going to shift to the ethics of our local media entities in short order regardless of my line of questioning here. The rights of commenters' privacy, anonymity, payola, selective comment deletion, retro-editing, etc.....I welcome that coming discussion. I hope my hunch is right.
BTW....keep reading Slabbed....trust me.
UPDATE 1: I need to clarify a statement in this post..."Jan Mann and her husband Jim Mann have also been named as commenters but I'm still not clear as to how that information was liberated by Team Heebe."
Jim Mann was originally accused by Heebe's defense team of commenting but Jim Letten later denied that claim.