Saturday, February 24, 2007

SF Chronicle Reporters: Heroes or opportunists?

Good to see that Will Harper, formerly of the East Bay Express, is now writing for the SF Weekly---both owned by New Times---since a piece (below) in the current edition of the Weekly suggests that he'll be willing to challenge political pieties here in Progressive Land, which will be a tonic for journalism in the city. For the past two years, I've had that target-rich environment mostly to myself here on District 5 Diary. Harper reports that another reporter, Tom Abate, floated a turd in the punchbowl when he asked Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada some hard questions during a Chron office party celebrating the news that they won't be going to jail. Turns out that their source was evidently BALCO defense lawyer Troy Ellerman, who copped a plea last week for leaking the Grand Jury testimony to the two would-be First Amendment martyrs:

Under Ellerman's plea agreement, the lawyer admitted that he illegally leaked secret grand jury testimony and then filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case because of the leaks, which he blamed on prosecutors. The plea deal also revealed that Fainaru-Wada went back to copy more of the testimony after Ellerman filed his deceptive and Machiavellian motion to dismiss.

When questioned, Fainaru-Wada and Williams still refused to talk about it, because they didn't want to compromise their source! This is a healthy reminder that leakers always have their own agendas. In this case, it looks like the leaker manipulated the Chron reporters---who probably didn't mind, since that was the price they had to pay for their scoop---to get his BALCO clients off the hook. According to a story in the Chronicle ("Lawyer Admits Leaking BALCO Testimony," Bob Egelko, Feb. 15), Ellerman faces up to two years in jail and a $250,000 fine under the agreement with prosecutors.

Recall that Deep Throat himself turned out to be a CIA agent with his own agenda.

Naturally, the SF Bay Guardian takes the First Amendment claims of the Chron reporters at face value, as they do on the Josh Wolf case: If it's journalists versus the government, journalists are automatically presumed to be in the right, a dubious assumption in both cases, since the facts reveal a more complex reality. In light of the Williams plea bargain and Harper's piece, can we expect a more nuanced follow-up soon in the Guardian? Don't hold your breath, sports fans.

The Cream and the Cake

By Will Harper
Published: SF Weekly, February 21, 2007

After the news broke last week that San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada wouldn't be going to jail for refusing to reveal their BALCO source, Editor Phil Bronstein organized a little celebration in the newsroom. Bronstein ordered a cake depicting Williams and Fainaru-Wada in jail-stripes. It was a back-slappy affair for the most part — until veteran reporter Tom Abate cross-examined the duo, Chron sources say, by asking them about getting "used" by their source.

Cue uncomfortable silence.

Williams recalls telling Abate that they had fought "like wildcats" for eight months not to disclose their sources, and they were not going to now.

Some might accuse Williams and Fainaru-Wada of having their cake and eating it, too. Both still won't identify their source even though defense attorney Troy Ellerman, who represented one of the BALCO defendants, confessed last week that he let Fainaru-Wada copy the secret grand jury testimony of star athletes like Barry Bonds. By refusing to talk about their sourcing, they get to avoid questions like Abate's.

Under Ellerman's plea agreement, the lawyer admitted that he illegally leaked secret grand jury testimony and then filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case because of the leaks, which he blamed on prosecutors. The plea deal also revealed that Fainaru-Wada went back to copy more of the testimony after Ellerman filed his deceptive and Machiavellian motion to dismiss.

In an angry letter to federal prosecutors, the always provocative Michael Rains, attorney for Barry Bonds, accuses the Chron reporters of aiding and abetting Ellerman's crime. "Does the reporter's desire to protect a 'source' require the reporter to engage in the 'noble' act of sitting idly by knowing that an attorney (Ellerman) has committed an act of perjury and has accused the government of doing that which the attorney himself has done?"

Rains' letter also demands that the feds keep their investigation going to find other leakers. Rains suggests that prosecutors are hastily wrapping up the leak investigation before they find someone in their ranks leaked other secret documents.

Williams, meanwhile, insists he and Fainaru-Wada aren't trying to dodge tough questions about their sourcing: "The reason we can't talk about it is we promised confidentiality [to our] sources. It begins and ends there."

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Jake McGoldrick: Hypocrite

In this succinct message to the PROSF bulletin board, Laurel Muniz puts her finger on the hypocrisy of the Board of Supervisors, none of whom regularly ride either Muni or a bike to City Hall to do the public's business, even though we supposedly live in a Transit First city and the BOS voted unanimously to make the Bicycle Plan part of the city's General Plan. We have to conclude that their high-minded words about public transit and bikes are just meant for us peasants, not for our "progressive" rulers.

From: Laurel Muniz mailto:lmuniz@pacbell.net]
To:
home@prosf.org
Subject: MUNI Working on a Plan

And don’t forget about our transit first Supervisors. I see them driving up to City Hall every day and parking in their free parking spaces. McGoldrick claims that he’s too busy to ride MUNI and that he’d never get anything done if he didn’t drive to City Hall.

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Coming to SF: "Congestion Pricing" for motorists

From my Eastbay correspondent:
This is an excellent piece from the London Telegraph about arrogant socialist Mayor Ken Livingston's imposing ("bullying") a punitive anti-motoring congestion pricing scheme on greater London. Red Ken was in SF a year or so ago holding press conferences and campaigning for a congestion pricing scheme to be imposed on SF. Of course the wacky SF Board of Supervisors liked his ridiculous proposal and are now cooking up a CP scheme for SF! The follow-up comments posted by readers are great. Hopefully, this unpopular CP scheme will backfire and end Red Ken's public career!

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