Monday, October 1, 2007

Charles Johnson on internet schedules

Charles Johnson discusses some of the history behind Montana's elected officials making public their daily appointment schedules, to the press and now to the public.

While transparency is a worthy goal, one wonders whether Johnson actually believes that Gov. Schweitzer isn't having highly newsworthy but private meetings or conversations with people who want to keep their business with him out of the public eye -- people with whom he will later have "private" meetings in public.

Just because the governor allows reporters to attend any meeting in his office that they want to attend doesn't mean that they are getting the private contents that they as reporters crave.

In fact, the case could be made that this policy can lull reporters into a false sense that they know what is "really" going on.

Undermanned news departments in Helena are already highly dependent on "he said/she said" sources of information -- getting one politician's statement and another's reaction or countering viewpoint.

During the last legislative session, we learned a lot of what individual legislative leaders and executive branch figures said the meaning of a particular piece of legislation was, but the media spent entirely too little time doing the work of talking to people who might be affected by a given proposed law.

Johnson softened the blow by highly praising the governor's open-meeting policy first before mentioning that he is the only "top tier" state-wide official who doesn't publish his daily schedule on the web.

He interestingly praises the bloggers who pressured Baucus and Rehberg (actually, the leftward bloggers pretty much only directed their indignant bile at Rehberg, and while they may have said a gentle word here or there, they mostly gave Baucus a pass.)

And now that Brad Johnson -- whom the lefty bloggers despise with a passion -- is publishing his schedule, there hasn't yet been a whisper of praise that we have noted coming from those same bloggers, for whom Tester's publication of a schedule took on a sort of Holy Grail quality.

So it is interesting that Johnson would mention those bloggers when their failure to praise Johnson or criticize the governor amounts to a rather deafening silence.

Johnson, to be sure, is interested in openness in general, both because he believes in it and because access to information is the stuff of which his job is made. But for a political reporter to fail to discuss is the partisan gamesmanship that has surrounded this issue seems a curious omission.


Pogie said...

How about a little honesty?

I was probably as responsible as anyone for the call for Rehberg's schedule, and did it only after his press flunky lied to the Lee papers, saying Rehberg's schedule was available.

I also ran a banner ad on my site and posted a request that Baucus post his schedule, too.

My praise for Brad Johnson finally posting his schedule would have be pretty measured, given his apparent lack of job responsibilities. Either he's not listing much to do, or he doesn't have much to list.

Montana Headlines said...

Points well taken.

Previous MH posts have dealt with the details of this subject, so there is no need to rehash the ground.

The point remains that Rehberg was gleefully hammered by the leftward bloggers in a way that Baucus wasn't.

And once Rehberg started posting his schedule, once a few more shots were fired at Rehberg for his tardiness and supposed dishonesty (which we also dealt with,) the subject pretty much got dropped.

Even the most obtuse of partisans can see the symmetry:

Tester posts schedule, Rehberg says people can call to find out what he's doing, left-blogs are all over him.

Johnson posts schedule, Schweitzer says people can call to find out what he's doing, left-blogs are silent.

Pretty straightforward observation, and hardly a dishonest one.

Anonymous said...

One thing I noticed was that you had to read pretty deep in Johnson's story to get to the meat of it--that the governor wasn't posting his meeting schedule online. Johnson first praised the governor for allowing reporters into meetings. But as you say, if the governor is going to have a meeting on a sensitive subject, I bet its pretty much guaranteed that it won't be on the schedule handed out as it will take place on the phone or it will occur at some place outside the Capitol grounds or there will be some other way around the "rules."

Pogie said...

I don't think there is any question that we're partisan, but there is a difference between being partisan and unfair.

I would never have raised the issue had Rehberg's spokesman not said I could have the schedule at any time. I'm frustrated by politicians (and/or their press people) lying through the media, and so I pushed the issue pretty hard.

Even thought Baucus never made such a claim, I pushed him, too.

Regarding Johnson and Schweitzer, I have a simple question: have you called Schweitzer to see if his office will give you his schedule? I suspect they will. Rehberg's staff wouldn't. I know, because I called almost every day for a month and politely asked for it.

Montana Headlines said...

I never attempted to defend the failure of Rehberg's office to correct or clarify the original statement.

As I pointed out at the time, Rehberg's office has been handling constituent requests for years, and doing a very good job of it.

The question that most people want to know are things like "I'm going to be in D.C. on ______, where's Denny that day -- any chance I can see him?" Or, when is Denn next going to be visiting the office in my city, etc.

And of course, those practical scheduling questions would be readily answered.

I doubt that the spokesman had thought it through to realize that a completely different level was being talked about. Again, just my guess.

And one can't blame Rehberg's offices for responding with silence to what could fairly be perceived as partisan badgering.

Would I have handled it differently were I in charge? Yes, but only because I was actively reading the blogs, understood what a big deal was being made out of the Tester schedule by the opposition, and would have known that if we didn't have a detailed schedule ready for release, that needed to be corrected immediately, in public.

Now that Rehberg's office is plugged into the blogosphere and listening intently, one doubts that similar mis-steps will take place.

I haven't called any office for anything, incidentally, since I don't think it is particularly important.

Same reason that I didn't call Tester's office and play 20 questions about why his schedule said he was on the Senate floor when he was really at a meet and greet in the Big Apple. Did you ever call to ask about that one? Or did you just assume that it was an honest mistake that didn't justify hounding him over it?