Knowing your elected official

A reporter friend writes: Nothing like waking up to an email sent at 2 a.m. from an elected official who is so angry about my reporting of a fact that he states at least five times in an email sent from his government email address that he isn’t talking to me anymore and then includes quite a few adjectives to describe me.

Every news reporter worth a damn has gotten an email or a phone call or, sometimes, a face-to-face dressing anger-filled dressing down from a government official. Sometimes they are laced with profanity. I got them as a reporter and as an editor. When you write about issues they don’t want you to write about or fashion the issues in a way that bothers them, then you’re open.

Most journalists think it’s part of the job, listen, respond and then forget about it (assuming they didn’t make any mistakes). I know that’s what I did.

But what if you reported on the outburst? What if you let the taxpayers know a facet of the official’s personality that they probably rarely see? Or, posing the question more like an independent journalist, why wouldn’t you? Ah, the transparency of it all.

It’s hard to say the conversation is private, unless the official requested an off-the-record conversation, which isn’t usually the case. Besides, coming from a government email address, it’s a public record. Would reporting it ruin the person as a source? Maybe, but, really, who cares, especially if he’s promised not to talk to you again. Does it make the reporter appear as if he or she is at the center of the news, rather than an outside looking in? Perhaps, but again, so what? It’s about him, not you.

As everyone discusses and dissects the issue of whether a journalist should be a truth vigilante, I say publish the email in paper, online or on the air. Maybe the crowd at a South Carolina debate will applaud the public official, but again, so what? It reveals the character of someone elected to represent the people. They deserve to know.

Update: Shannan Bowen, reporter with the Wilmington Star-News, decided to write about it. She includes the email the official sent, complete with misspellings, grammatical convolutions, straight-out denials of information clearly in the public record and angry attacks.

Well done, Shannan and Star-News.

Democrats invite 500 media folks, but it’s off the record

A day after the Democratic National Convention Committee reiterated that Charlotte’s gathering would be “the most open and accessible in history,” 500 media representatives were given a tour Wednesday of their September digs.

One of the first orders of business: cone of silence.

Mark Washburn of The Charlotte Observer nails the Democrats for their controlling arrogance in a media walk-through. You’re going to keep hundreds of the media off-the-record? It’s not even as if what they’re briefing the media on is actually that important. I mean, how could the apparatchik think that everyone was going to accept such a thing? The press is not a pussycat; it won’t stand for this blanket off-the-record stuff. Crazy, right? Well….

“A total non-issue,” said Greg Kohler of Charlotte-based NBC News Channel, who has been managing convention setups since 2000. Kohler was more interested in the good news of the day – spots in the arena for his reporters to do stand-ups were going for $1,200 to $1,800, rather than the $10,000 they cost in Denver and at other conventions.

Larry Rubenstein, who runs the logistics for Reuters news service, was focusing on the money, too. In Charlotte, the media can rent chairs at the arena for only $49, a third less than what they were paying in Denver four years ago.

He said off-the-record conversations are common during media orientation, and he thought even the Republicans had some such moments in December. “Accepted practice,” he said. Competitive reasons.

Now, we’re not pussycats. For another take, Rob Christensen of the N&O also got a more traditional story out of the gathering. No mention of the off-the-record status of the meeting.