Friday, April 08, 2005

An anti-Gannon person argued:
"Guckert was NOT expecting privacy."

A Gannon defender argued:
"He was sure as heck expecting his picture to remain
private--unknown--to the non-gay community."

This fundamentally misses the most significant point, and it is a point that brings clarity to 3 seperate political controversies that have arisen of late. I will take each in turn. While it is true that we can argue that the folks who Gannon intended to view his website most certainly was not the general isn't really necessary to do so. The most significant fact is that Gannon's picture does NOT consist of an identification. The anti-Gannon folks have insisted on equating a 'photograph' with 'identification' in making their excuses for Kos et al. They argue that since Gannon put his identity as a gay prostitute into the public domain where it could be theoretically accessed by anyone, this indemnifies Kos et al. for criticism of the publication of this information (indeed, they argue that Kos did not make this information public because it *already* was public). But the fact is that Gannon did NOT put his identity as a gay prostitute into the public domain. He put his photograph into the public domain. That is not an identification. Indeed, he clearly took concerted steps to hide his identity and prevent a connection being made between him and his previous life as a gay prostitute. I'd argue in the alternative that even had he put his identity out there, it still wouldn't have made Kos et al. actions morally they were still deciminating irrelevant personal information against that person's clear intent and for purely spiteful (non-relevant) reasons. But I don't have to argue that. Because Gannon most certainly did not
*identify* himself as a gay prostitute.

As police line-ups illustrate on a daily basis, there is simply no justification for conflating the two concepts. Gannon didn't advertise his identity. He advertised a picture. His identity was discovered through some sleuthing by Kos et al. I don't fault Kos et al. for acquiring the information that was in the public domain assuming, as Wendy tells us, they were actually looking for relevant background information on Gannon's journalistic credentials. But the information that they did find about Gannon most certainly did NOT serve that purpose. What I fault is the publishing of irrelevant and damaging information about a private citizen (information the citizen clearly did not want in the public domain) for spiteful purposes. It served no public good to deciminate this information. It's only value was salacious in nature. Hence it was wrong for them to do so and their actions were clearly worthy of criticism / aprobation.

In the same vein, I do not fault Republican staffers for acquiring information that was placed within their purview. This information was accessible to them in the same way that Gannon's true identity was accessible to Kos et al. Republicans were *supposed* to be able to access that server. They had no obligation to assume that the Dem's folders were verboten any more than Kos et al. had an obligation to assume that Gannon's domain registrations were intended to be kept secret. You simply cannot fault the Republican staffers for accessing information that they were permitted to access. The distinction between Kos et al. and the Republican staffers comes in terms of the publishing of this information to the public. I do not fault their making this information public because it servied a public purpose (highlighting shannigans by high government officials). Sure, they had a partisan incentive as well...but the public good trumps that objection. Their true motivations are unknowable. What we do know is that this information was of legitimate public interest. Just as Harkin's publication of a Republican leadership-inspired memo would have served the public interest (once again trumping the partisan interest angle)...if that had, indeed, been the facts of the case.

The parallel between the Harkin acquistion of the Republican-drafted memo and the Republican Judiciary Committee staffer's accquisition of the Democratic memos is perfect. Neither were intended for the eyes of members of the other party (indeed, in the case of the Harkin acquired memo, the memo wasn't intended for they eyes of anyone but Martinez...if even him). Both were acquired due to the negligence of members of the other party. The only relevant distinction between the two instances is that the Republican-drafted memo on the Schiavo case was reported *inaccurately* the public *bad* information on the motivations of Republican leadership (to which the memo doesn't speak at all)...whereas the memo's acquired by the Republican staffers *were* reported accurately.

That in both cases there was a clear partisan motivation on the part of the acquirers is trumped, in terms of justifiable criticism, by the fact that the public interest in that information becoming public was congruent with the partisan angle. In essence, a criticism based on partisanship is out-of-bounds because it rests on a faulty assumption.
Anytime the Republicans reveal something negative about the Democrats (or vice versa), the partisan interest in so doing is omnipresent. It would be a criticism that could be directed in all such instances...including corruption cases against government officials (i.e. Watergate), charges of incompetence, etc. etc. No, in order to bring the partisanship accusation in bounds one must demonstrate that the facts do not support the accusation or that the reaction is not in proportion to the facts as known. That simply cannot be accomplished in regards to the Republican staffers. The facts were correct and the charges made based on these facts were not exaggerated. It can be accomplished in the case of Harkin's accusations (facts were inaccurate)...but even then we need not jump to a partisan conclusion.

And note, I'm not suggesting that a partisan motivation is necessarily a bad motivation. The competition between the parties is a good aspect of our political system in many ways. However, when something is done purely for partisan isn't particularly compelling as a motivation. Evidence that congressperson's are essentially out-sourcing their legislative responsibility to interest groups is something of legitimate public interest. Even partial evidence that the motivations of the Republican leadership might have been less than pure in the Schiavo case (which is what the memo would have constituted had the original reporting been accurate) would be something of legitimate public interest.

Trying to walk it back the other direction, however, is simply an impossible task. You can't endorse the publication of irrelvant information about a private citizen (information that citizen clearly intended to remain private) for purely partisan reasons...and then criticize the publication of relevant information about public officials when there is a legitimate public interest in the said information.
Especially when, in both cases, the individuals who published the information violated *no* laws or ethical standards in obtaining the
information. D.GOOCH


Post a Comment

<< Home