Transparency News 10/22/13


Tuesday, October 22, 2013
State and Local Stories


The Associated Press has dismissed a veteran political reporter and an editor based in Richmond over an error about Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe in an Oct. 9 story. The AP fired reporter Bob Lewis and Dena Potter, AP’s news editor for Virginia and West Virginia, a source said. Dorothy Abernathy, Mid-Atlantic bureau chief for AP, declined to comment Monday and referred questions to AP’s corporate communications in New York. “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” said Paul Colford, director of media relations for AP.Huffington Post

Pittsylvania County’s registrar hopes to sell some of the county’s outdated, surplus voting machines to Campbell County. Since receiving newly-purchased paper-ballot voting equipment in August, Pittsylvania County has old touch-screen machines that are taking up space.
Register & Bee

The $10,000 grand prize in the Lowell Milken Center's international Discovery Award competition goes to journalism teacher Chris Waugaman and students Becky Shumar, Jasmine Lackey, Korrina Smith, Caleb Johnson and Destiny Banks of Prince George High School in Prince George County, Va., for "We Are Newspapermen: The Man Who Refused to Run." The project's comprehensive and historical website brings to life the largely forgotten story of African-American reporter L. Alex Wilson.

A federal appeals court has rejected an effort by birth injury victims to discredit a medical article blamed for weakening their medical malpractice cases. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit last week affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the reliability of a medical journal case report concerning complications in the delivery room. Patients’ lawyers contended the case report was based on shaky facts and was unfairly used to undermine claims by children who suffered from so-called “brachial plexus” damage. One of the victims was a child whose lawsuit ended in defeat in Fredericksburg Circuit Court in 2011. The three-judge appeals court panel decided the case against the article foundered on the plausibility standard for pleading in federal court.
Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most famous US cemeteries -- it's where John F. Kennedy, William Howard Taft, and more than 400,000 veterans have been laid to rest. Now, Google is setting out to map this massive burial ground, according to The Washington Post. Using the Street View Trekker backpack, which is equipped with a 15-lens camera system that pops out of the top of the wearable pack and constantly records images, Google employees are walking the paths of the cemetery collecting images.

National Stories

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will host a panel discussion with judges, legal experts and journalists discussing “Today’s Supreme Court: Tradition v. Technology and Transparency” on Oct. 25, 9:30-11:00 a.m., at the National Press Club. The event, which is free and open to the public, will focus on the real and perceived transparency gaps at the Court and how technology could be utilized to offer more insight into the Court’s proceedings – especially given the Court’s increasing power amid the growing dysfunction in American politics.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider whether a unit of Thomson Reuters Corp can obtain and sell information on drivers provided by state agencies without violating a federal privacy law. The decision not to hear the matter represented a win for the commercialization of publicly available information, although U.S. law remains mixed on the subject.

Wikipedia has shut down more than 250 editing accounts as part of an investigation into "suspicious edits and sockpuppetry" that promoted organizations or products. "It looks like a number of user accounts -- perhaps as many as several hundred -- may have been paid to write articles on Wikipedia promoting organizations or products," a clear violation of the site's policies, Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner wrote in a blog post Monday. "As a result, Wikipedians aiming to protect the projects against non-neutral editing have blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts." The revelation follows reports earlier this month in The Daily Dot and Vice that described an increase in paid edits on the non-profit site by sockpuppets, or online identities used for purposes of deception. The reports link the rise to a service called Wiki-PR, which bills itself as "Wikipedia writers for hire."


Jeff Schapiro, Times-Dispatch: Shortly after Bob McDonnell was sworn in as governor almost four years ago, Virginia government became less transparent - literally: Maintenance workers were directed to affix a cloudy applique to the windows of his communications office that look out on the reception area. Members of McDonnell's staff couldn't see out. Members of the public couldn’t see in. McDonnell isn't the only Virginia politician emphasizing the opaque. A big factor in the ethics scandal that is soiling the Republican's preferred reputation for rectitude — he's battling with federal investigators to keep his emails secret — opaqueness is spilling into the campaigns to choose his successor and the down-ticket races that will produce gubernatorial wannabes.

Daily PressYou're free to speak up. Oct. 20-26 is Free Speech Week. Here are some thoughts on the subject: "Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins." — Benjamin Franklin

Times-Dispatch: Virginia Inspector General Michael Morehart has now issued his findings on the subject. He concludes that the subordinate, Sharon Pigeon, did act inappropriately when she advised EQT Production and CNX Gas (a subsidiary of Cuccinelli donor Consol Energy). But Cuccinelli did not know about her emails in advance, let alone direct them. Cuccinelli’s spokesman says the AG shut down the communication as soon as he learned of it and eventually removed Pigeon from the case. The GOP gubernatorial candidate has taken some hard hits — from us, among others — in other matters besides this one: the Star Scientific controversy, the Navy Veterans charity scam, the Michael Mann inquisition. Those hits were well deserved. This one wasn’t.

News & Advance: At about the same time last week that Gov. Bob McDonnell was restoring the rights of felons to vote, the State Board of Elections was removing voters from local voting lists across the state. The odor of politics is much stronger in the actions taken by the elections board. With respect to the general elections coming up in two weeks, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Roger Chesley, Virginian-Pilot: Virginia Democrats picked a losing fight over a multistate database, in which the information led to the state's purge of tens of thousands of registered voters. A federal judge upheld the state's move last week. Nothing sinister was involved in eliminating the names of 38,870 people in the commonwealth. Those people also were registered in at least one other state. By comparison, Virginia has 4.8 million active voter registrations. The lawsuit filed by the Virginia Democratic Party against the governor and attorney general - both Republicans - and the GOP-controlled State Board of Elections overstated perceived problems. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton rightly rejected the suit. The Dems' reaction is understandable, though, given the climate involving voter access in Virginia and elsewhere.

Dick Hammerstrom, Free Lance-Star: Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act permits two members of a public body to meet and discuss government business privately without public notification of the meeting. If three or more meet, it’s a violation of the law. It’s always been my impression–perhaps naively–that such gatherings were merely a way for two members of the body to chat about upcoming board  business or to lobby a fellow board member for his or her vote on a project. But at localities east of here, such get-togethers are being used for business interests to meet with elected officials–one or two at a time, of course–and have their own discussions or lobbying sessions for major projects without public input or knowledge.