Transparency comparison: Media, Bush, and Kerry

Thomas Lipscomb has been on the case about irregularities in the Kerry story and the quest for source documentation to resolve them. In January, Kerry promished to release his records by signing a form SF180. The Boston Globe and LA Times now report this has happened but questions remain. Questions Remain About Kerry’s Military in Editor and Publisher describes the situation.

First is to note that releasing government records, even with a blanket release, is not always so simple a task.

The Associated Press last summer, after chasing documents on President Bush for four years, finally had to sue for injunctive relief to get the U.S. government to release the last documents. The head of the AP, Tom Curley, told me, “This wasn’t the fault of the White House. They were doing everything they could to help us. But without a court order we couldn’t get the last documents.”

This shows just how tenacious the media can be to make sure it has all of the source records – when it wants to be. But, in the Kerry case, the documents are not only not available for everyone to see, even the SF-180 remains undisclosed so that its conditions and caveats remain hidden.

Now that the Boston Globe has in its possession what it claims are Kerry’s “full military and medical records” is the Globe ready to make these much-anticipated records available to the public? Managing Editor Mary Jane Wilkinson replied, “It is my understanding that Kerry will release these papers to anyone else now that he has signed the Form 180. The Boston Globe is not going to make available the papers we have received.”

But “the onus is on the Globe to explain why they are not releasing the records. They at least ought to give the public some reason,” according to former journalism dean and Fordham University Larkin professor Everette Dennis.

And not only, that, but it appears that the Globe is taking a defensive position about its reticence.

And The Boston Globe made several calls to editors at the Chicago Sun-Times, complaining that I was giving them the kind of unpleasant treatment reporters give sources who stonewall on questions about matters they think are of vital public interest. They were right. I was. And those questions got the Globe to admit they had the SF-180 two days later.

This is not a singular incident. The Rather memo problem, the Newsweek Koran flushing problem, and others all illustrate a problem with basic journalistic integrity in qualifying sources. What has changed is that such behavior is now being exposed and the persons responsible are being called to account for their antics.

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