26 January 2007

He who shall not be named

The Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform has a commissioner who shall not be named. He is obviously a public figure — serving on this public commission, after all; being listed as president of the Colorado Alliance for Health and Independence; identified elsewhere as a former board member of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition and currently lobbying for them at the state legislature; and identified as being with the Governor's Advisory Council on Disability in a staff summary of a meeting of the House Committee on Transportation and Energy — but he says he’s not, and claims he won’t speak to the press. So. Accommodating his wishes, he shall not be named.

Legally he is a “public figure” because he engages in actions that generate publicity. As for his right to privacy, the Associated Press Libel guidelines state: “When a person becomes involved in a news event, voluntarily or involuntarily, he forfeits the right to privacy. Similarly a person somehow involved in a matter of legitimate public interest, even if not a bona fide spot news event, normally can be written about safely."

Those guidelines are conservative, meant to help journalists avoid lawsuits.

It seems as though he’d be a better advocate for his causes by working with the press, doesn’t it?

This reminds me of the days after Princess Di's death, when people became soooo hostile to reporters. It was miserable. I'd be there trying to do my job — write up St. Charles' spaghetti dinner, for instance — and people would snarl at me.

I wasn't chasing celebrities for crying out loud, or doing investigative reporting on whether the liturgy committee was trying to sneak inclusive language into the intentions at Mass. It was rather basically free public relations for the parish.

Most Americans do not understand that there must be a free and unfettered press for a democracy to work. You cannot have a democracy without a free press. Period.

It's too bad that newspapers and magazines can sell tons more papers when they push the rules regarding celebrity privacy. But who is buying? Is it just the pusher who's guilty, or do the buyers have some responsibility?

I've never been a paparazzi, never had that kind of ethics, chutzpah or the money that rewards it.

But it's too bad that it's rewarded. Maybe instead of feeling hostile to the press — especially the majority of reporters and photogs who are just doing their jobs, and wouldn't even considered trying for that topless shot of Jena Bush — maybe we should work on reforming our celebrity, wealth-worshiping values — that reward that.

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