Presented at the 124th annual convention and trade show
Of The National Newspaper Association
Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, 2010, in Omaha, Neb.
By Les Anderson
Professor, Elliott School of Communication
Wichita State University, Wichita, Kan. 67260-0031
††† Note: This paper has been greatly condensed, without detracting from its original meaning. My primary purpose in posting this shortened version is to emphasize the political nature of the defamatory campaign that was unleashed against me when I objected, in a civil manner, and on appropriate grounds , to the unprotected status the bill leaves reporters in rural western Kansas. It’s a “whole other country” from the eastern part of the state.
In February 2007, Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, addressed members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Kansas Legislature about a proposed reporters’ shield law.
Anstaett told the legislative committee that we in America can handle the truth, and that it is the job of professional news gatherers to do their best to deliver that truth to citizens.
“The American people have shown time and again throughout our history that not only can we handle the truth, we demand it as an absolutely essential ingredient of our form of government,“ he said.
Without the protection afforded by the proposed reporters’ shield law, however, Anstaett said in 2007, sources will continue to be intimidated and will continue to choose to not come forward, and journalists will not learn what public officials and others want to hide.
The proposed shield law didn’t gain much traction in Kansas for several more years. One of the problems Anstaett and the state’s journalists faced was providing real-life evidence to back up their request for new legislation.
In the fall of 2009, Anstaett, the press association and journalists in Kansas got the ammunition they needed. Claire O’Brien, a reporter in Dodge City, had been subpoenaed to testify at an inquisition, where she would likely be ordered to give up her unpublished notes and her confidential source for a story in a local murder case.
According to an Associated Press story by John Hanna, the county attorney was trying to force O’Brien to hand over notes from a jailhouse interview with a man charged with second-degree murder. He also was trying to get her to divulge the identity of a confidential source who suggested the man acted in self-defense and that one of the victims had ties to an anti-Hispanic group. O’Brien refused to comply with the subpoena.
Initially, the Kansas Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of a subpoena for O’Brien’s notes, according to the AP story, but the next day, the reporter received a subpoena (from the county prosecutor) to appear at the defendant’s trial as a witness. The Kansas Supreme Court (immediately)… refused to block the subpoena (without considering the appeal).
Anstaett commented: “It (the supreme court ruling) sends an unmistakably chilling message to our reporters and to their sources that no protections exist for those who want to blow the whistle on government, uncover corruption and abuse, or report on the criminal element in our communities.“
The Senate majority leader agreed that because of the Dodge City case, “We should strike while the iron is hot.“
With his help, a new proposal was enacted into law in that same 2010 session.
Kansas became the 38th state with a shield law.
Not everyone connected with the Dodge City case was happy with the new shield law, especially O’Brien, the reporter who brought the plight of reporters to the attention of the public and the legislature.
O’Brien’s newspaper, the Dodge City Daily Globe, is one of nine Kansas dailies owned by GateHouse Media, which is based in Fairport, N.Y., and owns ( close to 400 newspapers)
In an e-mail in late January to the state press association, her company’s division manager and publishers of four Kansas newspapers owned by GateHouse Media — including her own — O’Brien said she was disappointed in the bill. This e-mail came before it was signed into law.
“(The bill) strikes me as the kind of compromise that will give the legislature an excuse to avoid passing a real shield law for another couple of decades,“ O’Brien said in her e-mail. “We won’t get another opportunity to pass a bill with real teeth in it for a long time, and with the feds packing reporters off to prison in record numbers, I still think our best hope is a proactive and vigorous appeal to public opinion.
She continued: “This bill leaves ample room for forced testimony. If it serves as the basis for my protection, I predict that I’ll soon be right back in the same courtroom. I know this county attorney and this judge well enough to be certain of that. And I gave my word to my sources that their identities would be protected.
O’Brien added in her e-mail: “I’m not willing to go to jail for this bill. I don’t think it will protect me. However, I do remain willing and ready to go to jail in order to achieve real protection for all Kansas reporters.“
“I realize that the above scenario would transpire in theory only if the state meets certain criteria, but, in Ford County at least, the court has clearly demonstrated its willingness, if not eagerness, to rubber stamp every claim the state has made in that regard.” (My note, included here, not a part of the original email or of this paper: as a reporter, I had observed our county prosecutor and Judge Love in action for almost a year. It was clear to people in Ford County that if the shield bill passed, our DA, who went hunting with this judge every other weekend, would simply hand his pal, I mean his honor, a statement claiming that he had, as required by the bill, exhausted other resources. The judge would sign the prosecutor’s subpoena with no pretense of reading the statement. An hour later a deputy would appear at a reporter’s desk and hand him a subpoena.
“I realize that I’m just one factor in this whole scenario, and that each of you will make decisions as you see fit. I realize also that I’m just a beat reporter who probably appears to be getting too big for her britches. But for what it’s worth, and again with sincere respect to all, I’m risking your displeasure only because of deeply held personal convictions.
O’Brien was fired from the Dodge City paper shortly after the issue was resolved.
(She) told an Associated Press reporter that it was in retaliation for comments she made to news outlets after she was found in contempt for failing to appear at the inquisition. Her newspaper’s parent company, GateHouse Media, denied her allegations.
Obrien said she never testified before the legislature on the proposed shield law, although she had initially been asked to provide input. She wasn’t mentioned at the bill-signing ceremony either, nor at the annual state press association banquet, where everyone who played a role re the bill’s success was individually thanked. Except O’Brien.
It emerged late in the press banquet that O’Brien had not only won first place in the news division – and with the very story that had attracted the wrath of the DA in the first place – but that she had broken a state record by winning three additional awards at once.
“Fortunately, the judges were from the Nebraska Press Association,”” the unrepentant reporter commented on the RCFP website.
. In a July 2010 interview after her firing, O’Brien said …she was outside the information flow between the court and the newspaper’s parent company.
..”I was forfeiting some basic rights,” she said.
…She didn’t think it was unreasonable to want copies of everything associated with the case.
“I didn’t want to be leading a parade,” she said. “I wanted to be informed. I had to fight just to be told when motions were going to be presented… anyone facing a criminal charge has a right to information.”
O’Brien received four Kansas Press Association awards for her stories that appeared in the Dodge City newspaper. Ironically, among the awards was a first place for the story on her jailhouse interview.
O’Brien maintains the new shield law may protect the urban Democrats of eastern Kansas in places such as the famously wealthy Johnson County, and in Topeka and Wichita, where the state’s only two large newspapers are respectively located. As for the towns, large and small, that dot the high arid plains of Kansas’ vast central and western regions, the bill provides the reporters who put in 12 to 16 hour days for an average wage of $24,000 a year “about as much protection as nylon netting.“
“Out here,“ she added, “prosecutors rule like kings.“
♦ Purple text – highlighted email, incorporated by Professor Anderson into text and quoted directly by myself.
♦ Blue text – extremely condensed
♦ Orange text – added by me
♦ Black text – by Professor Les Anderson, Elliot school of Communication,Wichita State University
The above paper was also published in Editor and Publisher, November 2010
ON MARCH 31, THIRTY-ONE EL PASO FAMILIES WILL RECEIVE A PERSONAL LIBRARY OF BOOKS
ROOTED IN THEIR OWN CULTURE, HISTORY AND EXPERIENCE :
THE TRANSFORMATIVE POLITICAL POWER OF COMMUNITY LITERACY
Δ Θ Δ _____________ Δ ___________ Δ Θ Δ
El Paso, TX
Tu Libro has begun our annual Cesar Chavez fund raiser in an effort to provide 31 home libraries for 31 families in El Paso. The goal is to gift these 31 libraries on March 31st, Cesar Chavez Day.
Studies have proven that 90% of children who begin reading at a young age, read material they connect with and see a beautiful reflection of their culture on a regular basis – graduate on time, are active participants in their education and later in their communities.
Please support this fund raiser and donate at www.TuLibro915.com/Donate.html
and visit El Paso’s local book stores and publishers for amazing cultural selections.
The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Che Guevara
Masacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma by Ana Castillo
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders by Alicia Gaspar de Alba
The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
WASHINGTON, Nov 15 2012 (IPS) – A widely respected advocate for U.S. farmworker rights received a prestigious award on Capitol Hill here Wednesday, using the occasion to highlight pending state legislation that could significantly improve lives and working conditions that some have likened to modern-day slavery.
Librada Paz originally came to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico, when she was 15 years old, planning on studying for an engineering degree. Instead, for the next decade she ended up working on fruit and vegetable farms in New York State, where she learned of the “enormous discrimination” and “inhuman conditions” that continue to mark the lives of the state’s farmworkers.
“In the fields, you do not matter – neither your security, nor your thoughts, nor your dignity,” she told those gathered at a U.S. Senate office building, where she received this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
“While all workers suffer enormous discrimination, this is multiplied particularly for women. This is what it means when the legal system allows abuse – when justice has no meaning.”In the United States, nearly 75 percent of farm labourers are Hispanic, more than half of whom are thought to be undocumented. While working conditions for farmworkers throughout the country remain difficult, those in New York State have long been particularly, and often cruelly, marginalised.
That’s because of state legislation, passed in 1932, that codified into law systematic discrimination against farmworkers in New York, even as other states eventually moved to extend protections to farm labour.
Now a leader with the Rural Migrant Ministry, a three-decade-old NGO focusing on farmworker rights in New York, Paz and others are currently ramping up agitation in support of state legislation that would do much to bring New York’s regulations on the issue in line with national and international standards. The bill, the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA), is scheduled to be debated early next year.
Unfinished rights battle
Currently, New York farmworkers are unable to engage in collective bargaining, while also lacking many of the labour protections that have become nearly universal in other sectors and states. Farm labourers do not receive overtime pay and often work for little over three dollars an hour, with child labour reportedly rampant.
According to Kerry Kennedy, Robert Kennedy’s daughter, many farmworkers in the state are forced to work 95-hour workweeks, often around the clock; live in miniscule, overcrowded group housing; and go years without receiving time off. On Wednesday, she reported that of two dozen women farmworkers with whom she spoke recently, each reported having suffered sexual assaults from employers.
If passed, the FFLPA would make it easier for women to pursue such charges against their employers. In addition, the bill would ensure that New York farmworkers receive the same minimum labour guarantees enjoyed by other workers in the state, enforcing a minimum wage, worktime caps and overtime assurances, and worker compensation and disability insurance.
“Farmworkers never received the rights most others received, and to this day they continue to be perceived as little more than chattel, thought of as ‘barely human’,” Kerry Kennedy said. “Drudgery, subjugation and humiliation are, today, what characterises the conditions for those who grow food for the people of this country.”
Kennedy says that the legal peculiarities that perpetuate the marginalisation of New York’s 60,000-odd farmworkers contravene international rights standards. She also notes that even as unemployment figures have skyrocketed in recent years in the United States, few within the mainstream have chosen to engage in readily available farmwork – because they realise that it’s next to impossible to make a living.
“Jim Crow conditions continue to live on in New York farms,” Kennedy said, referring to the systemic segregation that openly and legally marginalised African Americans for decades in large parts of the country. “This situation constitutes an unfinished battle for civil rights in this country.”
The week before his 1968 assassination, Robert Kennedy met with a hunger-striking Cesar Chavez, the California labour leader who has had the single most significant impact on Hispanic and farmworker rights in the United States.
Chavez funnelled much of his organising work through the United Farm Workers, which he co-founded 50 years ago, in 1962, along with social activist Dolores Huerta. Librada Paz is often compared with both Chavez and Huerta, and the latter’s time is currently focused on raising support for the FFLPA, the New York legislation.
“Many people think of New York City as the intellectual soul of the United States, but the fact that farmworkers in that state still have no human rights – that’s a disgrace,” Huerta said here on Wednesday.
“This legislation is not asking for a lot, just for respect and dignity, but it is long overdue – those who feed us shouldn’t be treated like slaves. Workers in New York need to have this legislation passed to give them some level of protection, which would be a big first step.”
Your house is the last before the infinite, whoever you are.
It’s sometimes possibe to pay an affordable rent for the various little outbuildings that line the back yards of expensive adobe neighborhoods in El Paso and Las Cruces. Last year I lived for six months in half of an old carriage house in Las Cruces’ Historic District, across from the perfectly proportioned “Historic Pioneer Park”. I had only two small rooms, but there’s something about adobe that makes every space feel exactly the right size.
The Historic Neighborhood is overwhelmingly Anglo; in fact, I don’t think I met one Latino homeowner. New Mexico State University faculty line up (after tenure) to buy those houses, along with various other progressive-type transplants from both coasts. If they feel a disconnect between their vigorous presence and the quiet curves of those old earthen walls, today’s Anglo homeowners don’t reveal it.
In fact, their Neighborhood Society seems to regard itself without irony as the only body sufficiently appreciative of “our” (the city’s) heritage to be entrusted with the bulk of it – ie, the houses themselves. In these Anglo homeowner’s hands, “heritage” becomes conflated with ‘culture’ which is then reduced to little more than the preservation of their property values.
The primary focus of the neighborhood association’s civic duties appears to be keeping everyone else out of the park. It’s a logical and reasonable place for homeless people to hang out – and BTW, I’ve never witnessed a better-mannered emphasis on litter control than that practiced by this particular group of homeless people – as well as Latino teenagers from a nearby alternative school.
“The Problem” is both the first thing residents speak to a newcomer about, and the topic into which they natually fall within minutes of most encounters. After a few tense conversations about the meaning of the word “public”, I was no longer privy to the details of the master plan, which seemed premised on sleep deprivation – after forcing homeless people to leave the park at nightfall, the neighborhood association moved on to stage two, which prevented people from napping on the park’s hallowed ground during the day.
One day, shortly before I left Las Cruces’ Historic District for more modest accommodations, I heard the loud screech of a mircophone coming from the park. This was followed by what sounded like nothing less than a revolutionary speech – in Pioneer Park!
Wondering if I had finally been driven mad by the evening news, I went up my alley and crossed the street into the park.
A sea of brown faces appeared to be, well, cheering for the crowd of mostly Anglo homeless men, who, a beaming guy told me, had been invited to the park. Tables were piled high with sleeping bags, coats, mittens, hats, socks and knapsacks. Huge servings of enchiladas, refried beans, and melon slices were being handed out.
“You’re as worthy and good as any man! Don’t allow the sinners who profit from human suffering to touch your spirit,” a young priest said loudly into the mic. “There’s really only one way to love God – and that’s by living for one another. By serving one another.”
I should have known that the Latino churches would fight back. These are not your father’s Catholics, let me tell you.
As the priest went on to describe the circumstances under which land ownership becomes a sin, I felt a swell of pride for every Catholic who’s remained a stubborn thorn in the side of Rome. I chose a spot in the middle of the crowd and sat down, just one of many, not important, not unimportant. Just holding one another up.
I don’t know what happened after that, because I hit the road a few weeks later. I just know things are starting to look up a little in the Historic District – for everyone.
Before I left, I took some pics of my little adobe place.
It turns out that none of us belong in those houses. We can’t buy our way in, nor even rent a temporary right to be there – and the people who do belong there will never forget that they do.
“It’s been a little over a month since Sam Bonilla, a Mexican immigrant opted not to go to trial in Dodge City, Kansas for killing a local man during a situation he claims was self-defense,” Marisa Trevino wrote Friday on her Latina Lista blog.
“Bonilla’s reason for not facing a jury was [reportedly] that he didn’t feel he could get a fair trial in Dodge City because he was Latino.
“Time will tell if Dodge City officials were as clueless to the racial tensions that exist in their town, as they claim, or they just didn’t like anyone pulling off the blanket and exposing how they always did things.
“No matter which way it’s looked at, the situation in Dodge City needed to be exposed. If it had not been for Claire O’Brien, the reporter for the Dodge City Daily Globe at the time, no one would have found out about Bonilla or Dodge City.
“. . . But not everybody was happy that O’Brien exposed Dodge’s racial undercurrents. In a bizarre show of unprofessionalism, the presiding judge in Sam Bonilla’s sentencing hearing, Judge Daniel Love, took over 10 minutes to publicly berate O’Brien, who was present in the courtroom, for stirring things up in town. He blamed her choice of words in her reporting to describe Bonilla’s situation. By the time the judge was done, it was clear he viewed O’Brien as a troublemaker ‚Äî yet, everyone else should have seen her as doing her job, and doing it well.
“However, in the hours after Bonilla’s sentencing, O’Brien found herself in a situation that no reporter should be in for doing their job. Within a span of hours, O’Brien lost her job at the Daily Globe, was uninvited to speak at a journalism conference, was ignored by the Kansas Press Association in her role for finally getting the Shield Law passed in Kansas and began a quest to redeem her journalistic reputation. . . . ”
JEREMIAH KAUFFMAN: HIS WORLD of ART and POETRY
Author: The Salty River Bleeds, The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. Alum: Palomar College, Columbia University, Bennington College. Follow on twitter @SmpageSteve on Instagram @smpagemoria on Facebook @steven.page.1481
Just another WordPress.com site
• Hugs and Infinities
Musings and books from a grunty overthinker
unleashing the world of words
world in my eyes!
Shenzhen Women for Marriage - Meet Your Gorgeous Chinese Bride
A girl travelling around the world on a motorcycle.
Travel with ease!
Poetry and Fiction
Life In Verses
Prime my subconscious, one hint at a time
When in doubt, travel.
News, photos, stories, and trouble from the borderland
Growing wider & wiser