Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kudos to Baton Rouge-area newspaper editor and former state Rep. Woody Jenkins for waging a righteous fight for the public’s right to know. Jenkins spent 28 years representing his Baton Rouge district in the Legislature, but his most important work for democracy is unfolding now in the suburb of Central. The Louisiana Press Association recently honored the ongoing public-records battle waged by Jenkins’ paper, Central City News, against that city’s mayor and other officials. Central is a poster child for the perils of privatization — 80 percent of its $5 million budget is paid annually to an out-of-state consulting firm to handle the city’s day-to-day operations. But when Central’s mayor was caught with his hand in a proverbial cookie jar and Central City News filed a public records request related to the scandal, the consulting firm balked, arguing it was a private entity and not subject to such trifles. Sadly, a district court judge sided with the city when Jenkins’ newspaper filed suit, and the mayor’s minions have since started a competing newspaper and are trying to orchestrate an advertising boycott of Central City News. Barring a successful appeal, what happens in Central City Hall stays in Central City Hall. Keep fighting the good fight, Woody.

Lafayette Parish Democratic Executive Committee secretary Mike Stagg caused a stir last week when his YouTube video, “Lafayette Sucker Tax,” started making the rounds. The story — Stagg’s point in the video is that Lafayette residents are paying more than they should for trash pickup because Lafayette Consolidated Government negotiated the deal with Allied Waste rather than putting the contract up for bid — lit up the comment section at and elsewhere, prompting a defense from LCG Public Works Director Pat Logan over the weekend in The Daily Advertiser. What’s so bad about that? Nothing, except the Allied contract is about 2 years old, and not an eyebrow was raised by Lafayette’s sometimes asleep-at-the-wheel news media — The Independent Weekly included — when City-Parish President Joey Durel et al were negotiating the contract. The public bid process may have saved residents money. We’ll never know. That it took a Lafayette political activist and sometime LCG gadfly to make this an issue nearly two years later is egg on our collective face.

The jury is still out on whether waterboarding gleans critical intel from enemy combatants. Unless you’re Gannett. In an article in Sunday’s Daily Advertiser titled, “Bin Laden death reignites CIA debate,” the case is closed: Waterboarding works. A truncated Associated Press article about 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — a Guantanamo Bay detainee — and Osama bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who proved pivotal in the hunt for bin Laden, ends on Page 5A of Sunday’s Advertiser with this: “Mohammed acknowledged knowing al-Kuwaiti after being waterboarded.” Period. Nuff said, yes? No. As Ind reader Ann Burruss pointed out to us in an email Sunday morning, Gannett editors replaced a comma in that last sentence with the story-ending period. Here’s the full paragraph, which Advertiser customers didn’t get to read: “Mohammed acknowledged knowing al-Kuwaiti after being waterboarded, but he also denied he was an al-Qaida figure or of any importance. It was a lie, much like the stories Mohammed said he made up about where bin Laden was hiding. Even after the CIA deemed him ‘compliant,’ Mohammed never gave up al-Kuwaiti’s real name or his location, or acknowledged al-Kuwaiti’s importance in the terrorist network.” Even the version of the story on The Advertiser’s website, where presumably the full text could have been published, ends the same way. Hmmm...

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