Samoa News finally raises questions about Faleomavaega
From ABCDEF Blog December 12, 2013
Samoa News deserves credit for publishing a story in today's paper about the virtual disappearance of our delegate to Congress and pointing out that our local media has done little to find out what is the true story behind his physical condition.
In the absence of any media coverage, the public has had no choice but to speculate. There are rumors going around about him having had a stroke, being in a coma, losing his ability to speak, being paralyzed and all the rest. It is a logical follow on since he has publicly admitted to having had heart and eye surgery as well as being diabetic and having other ailments.
It is puzzling why his office has chosen to keep the lid on the news, which only heightens the speculation, rather than go public and let the chips fall where they may. Just as ASG has to account for federal funds it spends, Faleomavaega is a federal public servant and must account for his time. We all are familiar with defendants who have tried to hide behind "Samoan custom" in a federal court of law. None has been successful. Similarly, it may be Samoan custom to give an ill person privacy but not when he is an elected federal official.
Samoa News says it has repeatedly asked Faleomavaega's office for information on the Delegate's condition but has been ignored. If that is the case, then they need to periodically inform readers of that fact, because they are as guilty as the Delegate's office if they remain silent. The public wants to know and it is the media's job to find out the answers. We are well aware that the paper has staff limitations but hey do subscribe to AP and it seems to us they could task the Honolulu and Washington bureaus to do a little digging. After all, Faleomavaega is a senior member of Congress and the Ranking Democrat on a Foreign Affairs subcommittee, so this is a story that AP might want to cover anyway for its broader news value.
It is simply not enough to say they aren't printing anything because the Delegate's office isn't giving them any information. In essence, they are admitting they practice handout journalism, waiting for the delegate to give them the "official word." If they are doing that for Faleomavaega, might they also be doing that for the Fono and/or the Governor, or is the Delegate a special case? And if he is a special case, does that have anything to do with his sister-in-law being on Samoa News staff while serving as a national Democratic Party official? Faleomavaega is the highest ranking elected Democrat and both he and his sister-in-law vote at Democratic National Conventions. It all goes to preserving the newspaper's credibility.
In the absence of pressing to get information and regularly reporting to readers, Samoa News surely can see why some might connect all the dots and conclude there might be a cover up going on. After all, no legitimate newspaper in the country would employ a member of the Democratic or Republican Party, even as a janitor, without readers wondering if the political coverage isn't being influenced. There might not be a conflict of interest but there sure is the appearance of one. Especially so in a small operation like Samoa News where everyone wears multiple hats. She may be "copy" editor, but we have seen her byline on news stories, too.
Samoa News writes that the ABCDEFG blog alleges that this “suggests that Faleomavaega’s health situation is a lot more serious than his office has acknowledged and from here it could be construed that the local media is participating in a coverup."
We are not alleging that, we are asserting it.
We are not arguing that Mrs. Hunkin be fired but any time a political story is written involving Faleomavaega, they ought to run a disclaimer. And as far as how to press Faleomavaega's office to give up more information, they need to remember he needs them more than they need him. Next time his office hands out the text of some meaningless cocktail party remarks before some group not even related to American Samoa, or a press release on some issue of no concern to us such as the name of an NFL football team or some meeting with a dictator in Central Asia, just tell his office you won't print these things any more until they come clean on state of Faleomavaega's health and tell your readers that is what you are doing.
Surely there has to be a healthy degree of skepticism about just taking the word of the Delegate's office on any of this. At one point according to Samoa News's own reporting, the office said it was not a life threatening situation. But later a staff member was quoted in the media as saying they almost lost him. If it's a matter of both statements being true because his condition deteriorated between one and the other, shouldn't the media have been advised with periodic updates?
Finally, Samoa News says "[t]here has long been speculation at Samoa News as to who is the author of the blog and why they choose to remain anonymous since most news organizations usually don’t give credence to sources who won’t reveal themselves. (A notable exception was ‘Deep Throat’ and the Washington Post.)"
We don't publish our names for the same reason Samoa News grants anonymity to writers of letters to the editor. It's a small community and people fear retribution. And frankly, it is probably why Samoa News does not go after this very legitimate story: fear.
Samoa News should feel free to publish or ignore anything we write. We are not asserting facts or looking to be published. As a matter of fact, we do not do any original reporting. We ask questions based on stories published by others, whether it be some foreign trips of questionable value or something sneaky he has tried to do. We don't look at ourselves as being a news source. We just point readers in the direction of sources and they can make judgments for themselves.
Our sources are basically the same sources Samoa News itself could easily find: news stories on the Internet. When Faleomavaega announces he is in Asia "on assignment," for example, does anyone ask him who made the assignment and what the assignment is? No, they just take the handout and print it. We are only raising questions that we believe the local media themselves should be asking.
As for using anonymous sources, papers do that every day by citing information from "a high government official" or "a person familiar with the situation" or other similar devices. As for Deep Throat, just think if the Washington Post had simply waited for handouts from the White House. Richard Nixon would have finished his second term.
Indeed, Watergate changed the face of journalism. This is not 1920, when Woodrow Wilson's wife could hide her husband's incapacitating stroke for 18 months. This is not 1945, when the White House succeeded in having the press conceal that Franklin Roosevelt had been confined to a wheel chair for the entire 13 years of his presidency. This is not 1962, when the press practiced self-restraint and did not write about the rumors that John Kennedy was running women in and out of the White House. This is 2013 and the public demands more from the press. It is a public trust, no less so for Samoa News than The Washington Post.
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Talanei Runs Faleomavaega "Tribute" to Mandela
From ABCDEF Blog December 13, 2013
The website Talanei.com has published Delegate Faleomavaega's "tribute" to the late Nelson Mandela but it is unclear from the wording of the story whether this tribute was delivered in the House of Representatives or just sent over for insertion into the Congressional Record.
The only legitimate sources for news in American Samoa are the daily Samoa News newspaper and Radio KHJ-FM, which has a small, one-person news department. There is also a local television station that has a daily newscast but it is owned by the government and has no independence. It is a component of a department whose director is a member of the governor's cabinet so it has no credibility whatsoever.
We have written much about Samoa News but more people listen to the radio than buy the paper, so KHJ-FM is important, especially since the news director also strings for Radio New Zealand International. Much of what the rest of Polynesia knows about American Samoa comes from RNZI. KHJ-FM also operates a companion website, talanei.com, which carries the stories heard on the radio.
Because there are no space limitations on the internet, the website often carries expanded versions of stories that have been aired and also uses stories that don't make it on the air at all. Because we don't monitor all the radio newscasts, we have no way of knowing if KHJ mentioned Faleomavaega's tribute to Nelson Mandela on the radio but the story was on talanei.com on December 9 under the headline "Congressman pays tribute to Mandela."
Starting "Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin has paid tribute to former president and anti-apartheid leader of South Africa Nelson Mandela," the story goes on to quote Faleomavaega liberally and then concludes by saying "Faleomavaega's remarks were entered into the Congressional Record for historical purposes." What exactly does that last sentence mean? Did Faleomavaega go to the House chamber, make his remarks from the lectern then ask that they be inserted in the Record for historical purposes or was this statement just sent over to the clerk for insertion without having ever been uttered at all? Was this all just for show so that a press release could be issued in hopes the local media dutifully would carry it without asking any questions?
Did talanei.com ask any of these questions of the delegate's office? If not, KHJ-FM and talanei.com are being complicit in a possible cover up of Faleomavaega's physical health condition. We will give KHJ-FM and talanei.com the same advice we have given Samoa News: seek verification of anything disseminated in Faleomavaega's name. If they will not let you interview or at least speak to him briefly on the matter in question, simply refuse to publish or broadcast it or do so with the caveat that you cannot verify the authenticity of the document and explain why not.
Congress is going into recess, so Faleomavaega will not be expected to be in Washington for any official duties for the next few weeks. So no one will need to cover for him.
January is another matter. Will he be here for the opening of the Fono, as is customary? Will the media ask Fono leaders if they will extend to him an invitation to address a joint session, as they have done in the past? Will he be participating in any fact-finding missions to Asia or elsewhere in January, as he has done so often in the past? Will he be attending President Obama's State-of-the-Union address? There also is major budget legislation that must be enacted by mid-January. Will Faleomavaega be able to advocate American Samoa's interests in the deliberations? These are all relevant questions that are on the minds of the people and the media should be asking them or readers' and listeners' behalf.
January is also the start of an election year. Will Faleomavaega seek re-election? When Eni was down here running his first campaign for Congress 34 years ago, a congresswoman from Maryland had a stroke and was in a coma on election day but still won with 80% of the vote and was seated in absentia the following year. Unless he is in some sort of vegetative state himself, Eni likely recalls that precedent and surely his staff does. So is it possible they will go to elaborate lengths to keep the truth about his health from the public in hopes they can replicate Spellman's victory? Sadly she never regained consciousness and the House eventually was forced to declare her seat vacant but she remained in a coma for another eight years before dying. Maybe they fear that he will be forced to resign and lose his congressional health care benefits (and they their jobs).
The Samoan people are a compassionate people and would never demand that he do that. All we want to do is to know the truth. We suspect that neither RNZI nor AP, whose stringer is on Samoa News staff, would be happy to discover that the "news" they were being fed from the island was based on government hand outs rather than old fashioned original reporting.
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