I have been a critic of the local news media for too many years, more than I can count. Even with that, the latest malfeasance of the El Paso news media is such that I’m at a loss of words to express my disgust. Disgust is not even strong enough to describe the utter stomach-sickening feeling I feel for the El Paso Times’ and KVIA’s handling of the ongoing email scandal with the city. I do not mention KFOX or the KDBC/KTSM hybrid news productions because frankly they are just place holders for some regulatory requirement to keep their FCC licenses intact.
I am not a journalist, in fact as English is a second language to me I don’t feel that I have the capacity to act like a reporter and yet I am forced to sometimes just to keep some semblance of relevant news flowing to those who care about the community.
As a Mexican national I am fully aware of the failures of the Mexican news outlets when acting as government mouthpieces at their worst and as gossip outlets at their best. Even knowing this I feel a Mexican outlet is better at doing what they are supposed to be doing than their El Paso counterparts.
The news media is supposed to be an important component to a functioning Democracy. In fact, I would argue it is essential to keeping the Democracy intact. Edmund Burke has been attributed with coining the phrase; The Fourth Estate, and for the purposes of this discussion I ask that you accept this as true.
According to the premise, The Fourth Estate is the press. It is supposed to act as the checks-and-balances to the collective of the three branches of government; the executive, the legislative and the judicial. The press is supposed to be the conduit that keeps the government open and transparent to the governed.
Recently I wrote a piece about how Bob Moore went on an online rant about how he was upholding the people’s right to know about their government by challenging the actions of the EPISD Board of Managers. That and the numerous editorials about how they have broken the NCED and EPISD scandals with no foundation, not to mention numerous purchased “journalism” awards is all the El Paso Times has to showcase for their fourth-estate functions. KVIA, for its part, takes the message delivered to it by the city and doesn’t bother to ask the most basic question; why would the government want to keep city business out of the public realm?
However when it comes to action, both the El Paso Times and KVIA are not only absent but their coverage of the ongoing email scandal is haphazard at best and often times completely wrong.
It doesn’t matter on what side of the email scandal you are on; the fact is that transparency in government is driven by access to information.
Let me take the liberty of repeating that because it is the basis of a free society; access to information is the only thing that keeps the Democracy functioning.
Here are the facts.
Steve Ortega has publicly stated that he is in possession of numerous communications that have “city business” on them that he refuses to release.
What does the El Paso Times and KVIA do with that fact?
They allow a former city official to get away with the notion that the public does not have a right to see “city business” communications in his possession.
Although it shouldn’t, because I already know from experience how they would have handled the situation; however, imagine what both media outlets would have done had Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had come to them with the Watergate story? I’d wager that both media outlets would have argued that Deep Throat was just one of the “crazies”. Nixon would not have been forced to resign.
In the El Paso case we have a former city official who has unequivocally stated that he has official business in his possession and the El Paso Times, KVIA and the rest of the local media outlets lets him get away with that, without even so much as a whimper of; “would you please, please let us take a peek at it”?
Who knows whether the information is important, or not, because it doesn’t matter because the fact is that city business is public information and instead of demanding access to it the local media allows Ortega to argue for protection under some nebulous constitutional amendment that doesn’t even pertain to the fact that Steve Ortega is keeping public information from the community.
I would like nothing better than to end this post on that note but there is information that is important for the community that it needs to be reported and unfortunately the news media has their collective noses so deep into the government’s ass that it hasn’t bothered to report relevant news to you.
As I already let you know through my Twitter feed (@martinparedes), and through my Friday post, the judge hearing the Stephanie Townsend Allala email open records request is set to make a decision on the city’s motion to end the case. Depending on how the judge rules on that he may further rule on whether Townsend Allala’s attorney, Bill Aleshire can proceed with taking depositions of Susie Byrd, Cortney Niland, Steve Ortega and Joyce Wilson.
On Friday, September 27, 2013, Bill Aleshire filed a response to the city’s various motions. Since the media obviously doesn’t consider the response important enough to report to you I am forced to share it with you.
Aleshire’s motion asks the judge to “postpone the decision on the City of El Paso’s Plea to the Jurisdiction and allow Intervenor an opportunity to conduct targeted discovery to determine if all the public information requested has been produced”.
You may remember that the city’s position is that the lawsuit is now moot because they have complied with the request to release the emails in question. Therefore they want the judge to dismiss the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction.
Townsend-Allala’s attorney argues that it is important to first determine whether all of the records, have in fact, been released before rendering a judgment on whether the case is moot or not.
As a matter of fact, Stephanie filed an affidavit, signed under oath, that contrary to the city’s assertion that it has released all of the records in its possession, it in fact has not. According to the September 27, 2013 Townsend-Allala affidavit she asserts that after diligently looking through all of the documents so far released to her by the city she has found “many” that do not include the attachments referenced in the emails released.
Her affidavit provides the examples of various emails that reference attachments that are not included. One example, provided by her, is an August 29, 2012 email from Steve Ortega to Joel Guzman, another individual at Hunt Companies, Gustavo Reveles, an undisclosed email address and Carlos Gallinar. This email references two attachments; “Memo_AAA Ballpark 08 29 12.doc” and “aerial DRAFT.pdf” that were not included, according to the affidavit.
As I previously stated, the judge is supposed to issue a ruling later today. As I wrote on Friday, regardless of how he rules, this issue is far from over as the judge’s ruling will surely be appealed.
As for the media, my disgust notwithstanding, they haven’t even bothered to timely report to you about the response from Stephanie Townsend Allala. I’m not even sure they are even aware of it, as a matter of fact.
Of course, if that were El Paso’s only problem with the local media then the city would have a fighting chance to recover from the ongoing corruption. But, when you have a media that doesn’t even bother to demand transparency in government then, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you El Paso, you will never get back control over the corruption that permeates your community.