’Chuting Fish in a Barrel

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Posted June 6, 2007 by Static in News

Surely, surely, his handlers warned that if he did this, hilarity would ensue.

The pictures alone, they must have said, could be grist for pundits’ mills for months to come. Well, he’s doing it anyway, or at least that was the word as Fort Worth Weekly went to press: Mayor Mike Moncrief was going to jump out of a plane. With a parachute on, that is, riding piggyback with one of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights skydivers. Wednesday morning – probably will have happened before you read this. Let’s see … Reclusive Politician Takes a Dive. No, that’s too easy. Ooh, how about this one: Mayor Gets Aerial Tour of Gas Wells Filling Fort Worth Landscape. OK, OK, one more: Scared Of Press and Public, City Leader Tries to Slip the Surly Bonds of Earth.

But seriously, folks, Static kind of goggled over that press release. Here’s a guy who doesn’t have time to meet with – gosh, how many folks has the Weekly heard from by now who said they’d been unable to get a meeting or even a return phone call from his Royal Mayorness – but who has time to go skydiving. Forget that the guy hasn’t returned a call from your own award-winning alt-paper in years and has told council members to do the same. Forget that he seems to have checked his old state-senator social conscience at the door of city hall.

This is a guy who tries to stifle public debate by discussing things in closed session that shouldn’t be and cutting off citizens who want to debate important issues. And yet here he is, out in front of God and everybody, taking that big step. Isn’t he afraid there might be reporters with unDELETEed questions staking out his landing zone? Oh wait – that’s what the Army guy is for. Mayoral Protection. Sneak and Re-Sneak Speaking of government sneakracy, we have two more winners. Federal category winner: U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona. Last week, Static described how an unknown senator had placed a secret hold on a measure intended to strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act, one of the most powerful tools for Americans to oversee their government.

The Society of Professional Journalists vowed to uncover the culprit, and it didn’t take long. Kyl, a Republican, said he put the secret hold on the bill, thereby blocking a May 24 vote, to allow for more negotiations. His press secretary said the senator has not hidden his reservations about the bill. “If Sen. Kyl’s concerns are no secret, then why would he insist on working from the shadows to place a hold on this very important legislation?” asked Christine Tatum, SPJ president and assistant features editor at The Denver Post. “The irony of secretly blocking a vote on a bill that would make government more transparent is supreme.” State category: The winner is Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Tomball Republican who raised a microscopic technicality in order to kill a bill that would have given Texas journalists some limited protection from the increasingly frequent fishing expeditions of prosecutors who want them to reveal confidential sources, turn over notes, etc.

Journalists and lawmakers all over the country have described the chilling effect this has on reporters’ ability to gather the facts – especially about government wrongdoing. A total of 34 states now have some sort of journalist shield law, and Texas was close to becoming the 35th – a bill had been passed by both legislative houses, with changes to satisfy prosecutors – when Riddle, at the behest of prosecutors, killed the bill in the waning days of the session, with a last-minute objection about one sentence in a bill analysis. Static wishes the Riddler a long and happy life, during which she becomes the object of government persecution and must turn to, yep, the nasty old press, for justice.


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