Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pentagon Papers Reflections

The Pentagon Papers is a movie based off a series of true events involving a 47 volume research project entitled "History of U.S. Decision Making Process on Vietnam Policy." The movie tells the story of one Daniel Ellsburg, a former marine turned strategist for the U.S. government and one of the country's brightest young minds.

Ellsburg was serving at the Pentagon at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin conflict and decided to go over to Vietnam to see for himself what the situation was. What he gathered upon arrival and through a two year tenure, was that the war could not be won by the United States if things kept going at the current rate, and even then it might be a hopeless cause.

While working at RAND, Ellsburg was sought out to help with the History of U.S. project. It was because of his incredibly high security clearance that he was able to obtain a full set of the documents, all 47 volumes and over 7,000 pages of information or as he called it, "7,000 pages of lies."

Upon reading the completed Pentagon Papers, Ellsburg decided to take it upon himself to somehow get the information to the public. He tried appealing to congressmen, to no avail, and after a year of failed attempts, decided there was only one option left. According to the movie, Ellsburg released the first volume of his condensed version - 43 volumes omitting all troop positions, future plans, essentially all still usable military intelligence that could endanger the country or the stationed troops - to a reporter for the New York Times. The next day, the newspaper published the story.

This sparked a proverbial "War" about the meaning of freedom of speech and what should be considered public record. The case of New York Times v. United States went to the supreme court where they ruled in favor of the NY Times.

It is interesting to note, however, that the Supreme Court did so only due to the lack of credible evidence that the government was able to provide to get the publications stopped. The court did not remove the Espionage Act nor did it give the press freedom to publish classified documents.

The Pentagon Papers became fully declassified in 2011.

Mark Owens Interview

In the episode shown to the class of "60 Minutes" with Mark Owens' interview was, to say the least, mind blowing. Even though it happened about a year ago, I was unaware that there had been an interview with anyone of the special forces team that killed Osama Bin Laden. The fact that there has been a book written about it was just icing on the cake.

This brings up an interesting argument over what information should be available to report and what should be kept "Top Secret" as the government classifies it. The man interviewed was a former member of Seal Team 6 before leaving the special forces group. He was sworn, by the government and the navy seals, to never talk about what happened during his missions or any of the on goings of the Navy itself. Where the line becomes shady is when it becomes a matter of if the public "needs" to know. Sometimes, secrets of the government should be known as public information. This, I believe, is one of those times. The public needs to know the story of how the man that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.

I think, that even though he acted against his signed contract and went against the will of the government, that nothing is wrong with what he shared during the interview. He didn't give away any national secrets, everyone involved in the mission is either dead (the enemy) or remaining silent, and no noticeable threat to national security has arisen even a year later. This, coupled with the fact the "60 Minutes" did virtually everything in their power to hide his identity - giving him an alias, a full makeup disguise, altering his voice, etc. - makes it hard for the government to have a case against him. I'm sure they could find out fairly easily who actually wrote the book or gave the interview (the man's name has since been released onto the internet) but that could endanger him, his family, and potentially the rest of the unit.

How humble he was that he was in the unit that killed arguably the most hated man on the planet also made it clear that he wasn't trying to break rules or undermine the authority of those above him, but simply educate the masses as much as he could about the events of that historical day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Black Hawk County Jail

Sheriff's Office/Black Hawk County Jail Visit

After the class' trip to the Black Hawk County Jail and talking with Sheriff Tony Thompson, I have reached the conclusion that we have perhaps the best Sheriff in the state of Iowa, and that he should perhaps run for a higher office; admittedly though, a county jail is not the same as a city/state to run. This is the impression Sheriff Thompson leaves me with.

In large part, this is due to what he has done/dealt with during his time as a sheriff. These things include: a $600 thousand profit increase for the jail (in a public service environment), over $100 thousand dollars in security updates to the jail, managed the $12.5 million budget to near perfection, dealt with two national news stories originating from his office, and a state wide story involving an 18 hour manhunt.

"I love 80% of my job, and 20% of it takes up 90% of my time," Sheriff Thompson said. He followed that up with an anecdote about getting tasered during training and said it was, "like getting shocked by an electric fence 10 to 20 times as strong." Undoubtedly, this would fall into that other 20% of his job. I found Sheriff Thompson to be very quotable and sociable, a real help to the media.

To build on this, Thompson said himself that he is, "a firm believer in transparency," and, "not a very good liar." He also stated that he will always tell the media what he can within the confines of the law and that he understands part of his job is to, "feed the media," and that both the police and media have a job to do. His point about respecting the media because of what they can do to a public image was interesting to hear a sheriff say, I've never noticed that the police are aware of what the media says due to them being mainly focused on gathering facts.

Under Sheriff Thompson there is 102 deputies and 45 vehicles and maintains a 50:1 inmate to jeopardy ratio in the jail. He runs a jail with one of the few courtrooms physically in the jail house.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Defense Attorney Aaron Hawbaker Speaks

One of the most interesting things that Mr. Hawbaker said to the class was when he was talking about the journalism aspect of his job whether it be talking to reporters or what he considers to be newsworthy. He also stated that "A lot of what is able to be reported is not considered evidence." This surprised me at first but upon further thought I realized that it is very evident. When you think of all the cases reported in the papers or able to be found online, rarely is it reported what the evidence is prior to a case being adjourned. He also believes that it is a journalists responsibility to be a civilian first and a journalist second. For example, if you, acting as a journalist, come across information that could be incriminating or help in a case, you should report it to authorities firstly before you do anything with a story in mind. When it comes to what he considers to be newsworthy. According to him, just because someone got pulled over and arrested does not make it news. The fact that this arrest goes to trial then becomes news. He also made the point that acquittals  are rarely reported. When it comes to talking to reporters, or anyone for that matter, Hawbaker has to be incredibly careful about what he says due to confidentiality purposes. Anything on public record is fair game to talk (and write) about, however. 

It was quite interesting to hear him speak about his experiences in the field. I was blown away by his 100% commitment to a fair trial no matter how heinous the crime. I also found it interesting the way that he so loosely talked about what he had seen; murderers, rapists, child molesters and others. He mentioned that he was "calloused" and that you had to be to do his job. His view on the law in general is very enlightening, saying that, "the law is there to protect, not as a sword to make things happen."  However, he also stated that the "the law bends to the circumstance." 

Overall the main thing I drew from him talking to the class was towards the end of his time when he said "Always ask, but don't be offended when you get shot down." He was referring to asking trial lawyers about their cases and how they rarely talk about them until after the case is officially over and even then it is a rarity. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Credibility in News Interviews

When it comes to the credibility of the person being interviewed, it could make or break the story. Readers and/or listeners may decide to take the story seriously, and in extreme cases, whether to take you as a journalist seriously. If you go out and interview the average person about deep space exploration and the problems that can occur with it and then write your entire article based solely off of the information they give you, it has the potential make you look foolish by demonstrating to your audience that you think this is a credible enough source to write a story about it. In the case of the two missing girls Lizzy and Lyric, we have three examples available to us for evaluation: a self proclaimed medium, Missy, the mother of one of the girls, and Drew, the father of the other girl.

For starters, let's look at the medium. Common knowledge tells us that mediums (otherwise know as psychics) are not creditable sources. But why? First, there is a lack of either physical and scientific evidence that confirms these peoples' ability. Secondly, a quick internet search will show you more than enough ways to scam a person by acting like a medium. The same search will probably be able to tell you how to spot who is being genuine in their attempts at other world communication and who is a fraud. With the likelihood of frauds and the amount of non-believers in the world, these two reasons alone are enough to discredit most that call themselves mediums. For argument's sake, let us take a look at the medium showed in class. While it is true that this opportunity will in likelihood be a once in a lifetime occurrence, it only makes the interview intriguing rather than creditable.

To this lady's credit, (not credibility) she drove an extensive amount of time to try her hand at helping the two girls and their families. The medium seemed for all the world to be connecting to another dimension or world based off of her actions: flustered speech and movements, describing how she felt as she connected with one of the girls spiritually, even going so far as to say that she saw binoculars in her mind which symbolize being watched. However, when she and her actions are looked at closely, it could have also very well been a fraud; this doubt is already enough to cripple one's credibility from a reader's or listener's perspective. An example of her potentially making things up on the spot can be recognized right away when she states "Lizzy needs help." Being quite frank, it is fairly obvious she needs to be helped seeing as she has gone missing. A less obvious example can be found when she describes herself struggling to breathe and it feels like her chest is being pushed down or she is being suffocated. There was a chance, at the time, that the girls could have still been in the lake and presumably had drowned, i.e. suffocated. She also spoke of a burgundy truck being involved in some way; the simple reasoning behind this could be that she saw a burgundy truck drive by off camera. In addition to potential fabrication, mediums, real or fake, tend to go on a lead that someone gives them with a question such as if it is a man? Could it be a sex offender? Do you think they were raped? All of these questions came after she said she felt "naked with my legs up." These questions fueled that fire so she kept on that line of thought for an extended period of time. In sum, the credibility of this medium isn't to be taken seriously unless evidence or something of substance can come from her readings and the credibility of mediums in general should be highly questioned before using them as legitimate sources in a story.

Family Members
On perhaps an entirely different end of the spectrum of those that can be interviewed lies the victims' families. Considering there were two separate interviews conducted, but they were both of family members, they will both be covered here in a comparison scenario. Interviewing family members can be trick business as you don't want to say something that could offend or irritate them to the point where they could potentially end the interview, but you don't want to get the bland, straightforward answers that don't require any thought either. It's these in between questions where the family's credibility may begin to be questioned. It's fine to ask what the girls were like, their habits, their friends, the adults they frequently had contact with because parents and families could and should know these things. However, when it comes to asking if they think it is possible for someone in the family to be guilty, truth could be cast to the wayside to protect one's image or simple delusion may blind them from the truth.

In the interview with Lyric's grandmother, she seemed extremely adamant that no one in the family had anything to do with the girls' disappearance. She even went so far as to talk about where her prime suspect son was at the exact time that the disappearance would have occurred stating "I had talked to him not ten minutes prior (to the incident)." Grandma seemed so confident that it wasn't any member of the family that it was actually convincing. This, taken into consideration along with her extremely optimistic attitude toward finding the girls and the way she spoke about them made it hard for anyone not to believe what she was saying. In actuality, however, her supplied aliases need to be verified before any real credibility can be attributed to her.

The interview with Lizzy's father was, by comparison, a 180 degree difference, (although it was speculated that he was heavily medicated at the time of the interview, which was much later than the former). Perhaps the wear and tear of the search was catching up with him and he was just sick of talking about it at the time. There wasn't much of a credibility issue with the father on account of not many in depth questions were asked; again this could be attributed to the timing of the interview as well as the state of mind he was in at the time. The point remains, though, that when it is a family member being interviewed, the basics of the case and victims involved may be the only "real" thing that they say and this should