Monday, August 12, 2013

Foxhall National Press Club Presentation

By Kathryn Foxhall
freelance reporter

Good evening.
Not so long ago reporters walked the halls of agencies, and in a unique, critically needed graduate school, they talked to and got to know staff.
 Got stories, perspectives, and education fluidly.
Just like this was the United States or something.
But over the last 20 years leaders have created this surge of blocking reporters from communicating to staff unless they are tracked and/ or monitored by the public affairs officers: the public relations controllers.
It is massive, pernicious censorship that’s now a cultural norm.  No matter what they know, employees are prohibited from ever communicating with us without guards working at the behest of the bosses and the political structure.
It’s people in power stopping the flow of information to the public according to their own ideas and desires.
How can the United States prohibit people from speaking to each other without reporting to the authorities? 
Journalists: why are we so buffaloed? This is not some inviolate way of life. It’s just a mean power grab that officials started pouring resources into relatively recently.
The impact is drastic. I estimate for many specialized reporters, at least, communication with staff is down 90 percent.
Never doubt the rotting, debilitating effect of silencing people.
The grave diggers at Arlington Cemetery knew about the jumbled graves for years. Janitors at Penn State knew about the child abuse for years.  
So, what all don’t we know now?
For one thing, in public, FDA says Congress has not given the agency all it requested for monitoring the skyrocketing pharmaceutical imports. Forty percent of drugs now come from overseas.
We urgently need reporters talking to FDA people in the policy jobs and in the front line inspecting jobs away.
Regularly, not just on big investigations.
Does the import situation keep FDA staff people up at night? Are we in pre-disaster mode, waiting for bodies to show up before we get serious?  Or not? What would staff say away from the guards?
It’s something because it always is.
It is unethical and inhumane to chill or confine information gathering.
With millions of people silenced in thousands of public and private workplaces of various moral persuasions, reporters cannot hope our skill and hard work are making up for this.
The ethical burden is now right on journalists. We can fight this. Or we can be THE integral partner in engraining it for the future.
A warning about compromises: In our weakened state some reporters say, “I will go through the PAO controls if they will just let me through without the delays, the monitoring, the outright blockages,” which have become so stunningly aggressive.
But that’s a sell-out of free speech. We will be passing on sterilized stories, muddling public understanding while lending power to an agency or political administration. And we, ourselves, reporters, won’t see the difference.
Finally, a question: why don’t we instead have tracking and monitoring of all the communications of all the agency leadership?
Thank you.

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