Saturday, April 26, 2008

Domenici disclosure and newspaper copyright

I've long had a problem with newspapers like the Albuquerque Journal posting a copyright notice right under the headline and byline. After all, the entire publication is copyrighted. The only reason for doing that is as a marketing tool to show they have somethig no one else has.

Such was the case in March 2007 when Sen. Pete Domenici's office handed an exclusive story to the Albuquerque Journal, thus allowing the newspaper to post the copyright notice under the headline and the byline.

But this exclusive gift to the newspaper should not have been made. Instead, the news should have been disclosed to all New Mexico media, if not to all national media. There was no such press release until the next day.

It was the disclosure that Domenici in fact had placed that now-famous phone call to the now-former federal prosecutor for New Mexico, David Iglesias, about a fraud investigation into prominent New Mexico Democrats. Domenici has now since been admonished slightly by the Senate Ethics Committee. The April 26, 2008, Washington Post editorial critiques him for not apologizing for the phone call that started it all, saying, "Mr. Domenici suffers from health problems and is retiring at the end of this Congress after a distinguished Senate career. It's too bad he will depart on this unbecoming note."

But what got my goat in March 2007 was the selective disclosure, thus the gift of an exclusive story when it was a broad matter of public interest.

Why did they do it that way? I firmly believe it was to get the disclosure out in a way that could get the story a soft landing. Such a plan would carry the hope that words written by a friendly newspaper would be picked up by the wires and others, casting as good a light as possible on the news.

I complained loudly to Domenici's office and let other media know my feelings about the sequence of events. Not only is such action unfair to the rest of the media, it also begs the ethical question about a senior elected official ignoring his total constituency in favor of one media outlet. The newspaper carry the extra copyright banner, that marketing tool I presume is there to help enrich themselves.

Furious, I dashed off an email at the crack of dawn that Sunday morning to Domenici's office. They then released this statement that same day, hours after the Journal had gone to press.

(The Albuquerque Journal story appeared Sunday, March 4, 2007. It's no longer available in archive.)

Domenici's statement March 4, 2007(also no longer available on the senator's website but I found it in another blog)

I take this opportunity to comment directly on media statements by former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, David Iglesias.
Since my knowledge of his remarks stems only from a variety of media accounts, I have hesitated to respond. Nevertheless, in light of substantial public interest, I have decided to comment.

I called Mr. Iglesias late last year. My call had been preceded by months of extensive media reports about acknowledged investigations into courthouse construction, including public comments from the FBI that it had completed its work months earlier, and a growing number of inquiries from constituents. I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what timeframe we were looking at. It was a very brief conversation, which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period.

In retrospect, I regret making that call and I apologize. However, at no time in that conversation or any other conversation with Mr. Iglesias did I ever tell him what course of action I thought he should take on any legal matter. I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way.

I was pleased to recommend to the President of the United States in early 2001 that he nominate Mr. Iglesias as U.S. Attorney for New Mexico. I knew from many discussions with federal law enforcement and judicial officials that the caseload had become extremely heavy within our state.

During the course of the last six years, that already heavy caseload in our state has been swamped by unresolved new federal cases, especially in the areas of immigration and illegal drugs. I have asked, and my staff has asked, on many occasions whether the federal prosecutors and federal judiciary within our state had enough resources. I have been repeatedly told that we needed more resources. As a result I have introduced a variety of legislative measures, including new courthouse construction monies, to help alleviate the situation.

My conversations with Mr. Iglesias over the years have been almost exclusively about this resource problem and complaints by constituents. He consistently told me that he needed more help, as have many other New Mexicans within the legal community.

My frustration with the U.S. Attorney’s office mounted as we tried to get more resources for it, but public accounts indicated an inability within the office to move more quickly on cases. Indeed, in 2004 and 2005 my staff and I expressed my frustration with the U.S. Attorney’s office to the Justice Department and asked the Department to see if the New Mexico U.S. Attorney’s office needed more help, including perhaps an infusion of professionals from other districts.

This ongoing dialogue and experience led me, several months before my call with Mr. Iglesias, to conclude and recommend to the Department of Justice that New Mexico needed a new United States Attorney.

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