Sneaking Suspicions
Archives-- August 1-7, 2004

This page includes posts from August 1-7, 2004 in the usual reverse order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these archive pages.

August 7, 2004
Let’s hear and see the record

Under normal circumstances I would simply enjoy reading Tom Maguire’s blog posts on presidential stories such as the current who-said-what dispute between the Swift Boat Vets and the Boston Globe.

Considering that at least two of the Vets are from Delaware, however, with George Elliott living only a few miles from the headquarters of Sneaking Suspicions, I’m intrigued enough to make a suggestion to those on both sides of the controversy.

With all due respect, it’s past time for large corporate news organizations such as the Boston Globe to run the following:

Globe Editor Martin Baron released a statement saying "the Globe stands by the article. The quotes attributed to Mr. Elliott were on the record and absolutely accurate."

There have been far too many examples where those kinds of statements have proven to be woefully short of the truth for anyone to take it seriously.

Instead, the Globe should simply post on their website the complete audiotape of any interviews, if the subjects complain that they were misquoted. 

It’s not hard to do, and if the interview subjects know that the tapes will be produced, they also might think twice about making a false claim that they were either misquoted or taken out of context. 

On the other hand, if the newspaper balks at posting the tapes and transcripts, then it's fair to conclude that its story is not necessarily reliable.

The other Swift Boat Vets should also learn a valuable lesson from what’s now happening to George Elliott. Any future interviews from any media contacts seeking comment should be taped—by the vets. 

It’s not hard. The equipment needed for taping telephone calls is readily available from stores such as Radio Shack, and there’s nothing wrong with insisting on taping any conversation with reporters. They should also be told they’re being taped, with a comment that the tape is for the protection of both parties. 

Some reporters might balk, but there’s a simple response to those who object—no interview.

And if the newspaper still screws up the story, the Vets should post their own tapes at their own website.

There’s a lot to be said for transparency. It might even help people and newspapers be a bit more honest.

August 7, 2004
Traffic Report

August 6 marked the 31st-month anniversary of this site. As of that date, 232,071 visitors have viewed 295,281 pages.

Thanks very much for your patronage. Stop by again soon.

August 4, 2004
Not that chilly

My constitutional law professor at American University was a bit conservative, especially when the discussion centered on the First Amendment. If a classmate used the phrase “chilling effect,” that was good for a several minute sermon. We quickly learned that talking about one’s temperature and the Constitution at the same time was not a good idea, both for argument’s sake and frankly as a matter of proper constitutional interpretation.

It appears that at least a few judges on the Tenth Circuit share this practical view, based on a decision issued yesterday.

A sheriff’s management practices in Shawnee County, Kansas, office managed to generate some fairly committed opposition to his continued tenure in his elected post. Several voters began working to obtain signatures for a recall petition.

As if to prove for all concerned that these folks were correct in their assessment, the sheriff then tapped into the Kansas criminal justice record system to check for any records on the petition leaders.

Someone tipped them off. They contacted the local media, and the controversy quickly bubbled over.

The sheriff’s ham-handed tactics apparently had an effect, however, in that the petitioners failed to gather enough signatures to force the recall vote. Nonetheless, a Kansas court eventually ordered the sheriff’s removal from office on other grounds.

The petition leaders sued the sheriff, seeking damages for the alleged violation of their civil rights because of the way he misused his authority to check the criminal history records.

The district court ruled that the sheriff was not protected from liability by qualified immunity, but the Tenth Circuit panel held instead that the facts failed to support a First Amendment claim:

For there to have been a violation of First Amendment rights, the defendant's action must have had a deterrent, or "chilling" effect on the plaintiff's speech. [citation omitted]. And when the plaintiff alleges that the defendant's action was taken in retaliation for protected speech, our standard for evaluating that chilling effect on speech is objective, rather than subjective. [citation omitted]. The harm must be of the type that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in the protected speech….***

Although we strongly disapprove of [Sheriff] Meneley's conduct in running the background check on the plaintiffs, we hold that this single action was not enough to chill the actions of persons of ordinary firmness who enter the arena of political debate to sponsor a recall petition against a sheriff who they accuse of abusing his office….

Our case law recognizes that the nature of political debate is rough and tumble.  Plaintiffs in public debates are expected to cure most misperceptions about themselves through their own speech and debate…. The plaintiffs here remained free to talk to the media about the sheriff's use of the [criminal history record] system, and they did. [citations omitted]. Indeed, the plaintiffs were the ones to bring the story to the newspaper, and they were the ones who repeatedly spoke to the press about how the petition drive was progressing and what message they wanted to give their supporters about the [criminal background] checks.  Despite anything the sheriff had done, the plaintiffs were very much "free to express [their] views publically and to criticize" the sheriff's conduct, as we have found to be significant. [citation omitted].  These plaintiffs have not then stated a claim that would support a finding that their constitutional rights have been violated

Considering that the sheriff managed to screw himself out of office in any event, I’ll bet that he will nonetheless take some cold comfort from this decision.

On the other hand, it would be perfectly understandable if the plaintiffs felt a bit hot about it.

August 4, 2004
A Claude award for a campaign finance headline

Someone once figured out that politicians are no different from participants in any other free market. As with any other group, they will seek out ways to maximize their own positions, while reducing opportunities for competitors.

Futzing with the twin requirements of periodic redistricting and raising campaign cash are just two of the many ways in which these folks preserve their advantages.

All the more reason to smile, therefore, when I read this headline from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about a decided advantage in fundraising among current members of the Wisconsin legislature:

Fund raising empowers incumbents

(Hat tip to Rick Hasen).

That one’s worth at least three Claudes for its sheer obviousness.

August 4, 2004
Missed Opportunity

There's usually not much funny about a newspaper story that reminds us of the cruelty of nature. 

Nonetheless, sometimes you just can’t ignore it when a headline writer misses a golden opportunity. 

An online story in today’s News-Journal is a good example.

The actual headline reads,

Massive fish kill may affect beaches.

Apparently frigid water in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland and Fenwick Island, Delaware upswelled into an area teaming with fish. The fish were used to the normal 60 degree conditions, but when the water temperature dropped to 40 degrees they couldn’t handle the change. 

At least one estimate is that perhaps a million fish succumbed to the unusual event, with thousands of carcasses now washing ashore: 

Neither state reported issued beach closings today, but Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John A. Hughes urged parents to steer children clear of shallow, isolated tidal pools where dead fish might collect….

Richard McIntire, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said divers offshore first reported a quarter-mile-wide accumulation of dead fish. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration officials said offshore water temperatures had suddenly plunged from 60 degree ranges to 40 degrees, McIntire said, creating lethal conditions….

Now here’s the issue: The fish were croaker.

I am not making this up. 

Nonetheless, it certainly raises the question why the newspaper failed to use the word “croak” in the headline. 

It would have been a natural choice of terms, under the circumstances.

August 3, 2004
Screening night

The folks running the summer screening series for the members of the Rehoboth Film Festival showed two interesting films last night. 

The short film, Ocean City [no website found], centers upon a painfully shy young man’s first faltering steps to break away from following his father’s career path. Most of the story takes place along the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, but other than as the background there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why the film uses the old beach town as its title. It’s no Atlantic City, in other words, but a pleasant little fable that follows familiar paths.

Burning Annie was the feature film, and most of the audience liked it better than the short. Glenn Reynolds has touted this movie on his site for a long time, and now that I’ve seen it I can understand why.

There is much to like in this comedy about a college student who’s convinced that his rocky romantic history is tied directly to his obsession about Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Several scenes drew immediate bursts of laughter from the audience, but in the discussion afterward the reaction was decidedly mixed. However, the folks that didn’t enjoy it also seemed like those who use the word “cinema” when the rest of us use “movie” instead.

Several scenes reminded me of our college-age daughter and her friends. I think it easily deserves to be shown at this fall’s festival.

August 1, 2004
The wisdom of one's playing partners

I heard this during a pleasant round of golf on Saturday morning:

"Y'know, if they want us to hit the ball down the middle, they oughta make the middle a lot bigger."

Makes perfect sense.


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Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2004