“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking Everybody knows that the captain lied Everybody got this broken feeling Like their father or their dog just died.”
This coming weekend, I will be publishing a contribution to the Mic check guest blogger series from Claire O’Brien, whom I met through our interactions at her exceptional blog, Eléctrica in the Desert. Journalism is a profession that, in my not so humble opinion, falls under the category of “higher calling”, as it is entrusted with the widely coined mandate to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In this context, Claire is an honorable reporter whose story serves as a reminder that following one’s conscience may come at a price. I would like to share with readers the extraordinary attack that was coordinated against her in the midst of a racially and politically divisive murder trial several years ago that served to derail her career as a journalist. O’Brien worked as a reporter for the Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, at the time a Latino man named Sam Bonilla was on trial and facing decades in jail for killing a local man, which he claimed was in self-defense. Bonilla was a Mexican immigrant who feared he could not get a fair trial and opted to forego a jury trial. In the course of her investigative reporting, she interviewed a source who corroborated Bonilla’s claim that the man he killed when confronted had “a base of support that is well-known for its anti-Hispanic beliefs” and a “supply of semi-automatic weapons.” O’Brien was pressured to reveal her source and when she refused was threatened with contempt by the presiding Judge. As a result of her actions, she was unceremoniously fired from her job at the Daily Globe, which went so far as to change the locks in their offices. She found previously proffered job offers and invitations to appear at journalism conferences withdrawn. This despite the fact that O’Brien won multiple awards for her investigative reporting, helped bring Bonilla’s case into the light of public scrutiny and was instrumental in establishing a Shield Law, in 2010, by the Kansas legislature.
In Claire O’Brien’s own words:
I wrack my brain daily re: why no one considers my position worth even investigating. During fierce national threats to our civil liberties, I had acted to derail a state frame up funneling a Latino victim of a Hate Crime to a 40-year prison term. My coverage shone a light on “one of the most repressive and disturbing racist systems” the Mexican American Defense Fund had ever seen. Next, the U.S. Dept. of Justice showed up. No one had ever been made aware of the plantation system exploiting 9,000 slaughterhouse workers and their families in a corner of SW Kansas. Next, I’m hit with a subpeona to reveal the name of a confidential source. The nations premier Free Press organization, founded by four Black reporters 40 years ago because they couldn’t interview a member of the Black Panther Party without getting arrested, sends its biggest big shot, the famous Lucy Dalglish (FYI, the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press is now a white-dominated organization).
“And I’m supposed to accept it? What message is the Left sending me? If the Press leaders and the corporate media can stamp out rank and file reporters at will, that means their tens of millions of the unimportant readers have just had their First Amendment access to a free press shattered.
Update: If there’s a journalist whose editor won’t kill the story, I have a ton of evidence and info. You should know that Jeremy Peters at the N.Y. Times said he was ready to write it, but they killed it, and that Charlie Savage knew of the problems I was having with GateHouse Media three months before anyone else did, and has remained silent. Calvin Trillin wrote a piece in the New Yorker, and admitted to me right before his May 10, 2010 story that he’d been informed of my innocence before arriving in Dodge City. All I’m saying is, be prepared to get your story killed. I don’t know how to express how much any support will mean to me. Frankly, I have been devastated. Any blogger could make a huge difference by urging every connection they have to re-blog and tweet and re-tweet, demanding that the U. of Maryland Board of Trustees investigate these allegations. State law actually requires it. Also, the RCFP steering committee – the organization lists the many members, but refuses to provide me with email info for each of them. Reporter Tony Mauro, former president of the RCFP Steering Committee has participated in this cover-up, as has the Society for Professional Journalists – most prominently and ironically David Cullier, national Freedom of Information Act Officer. I have proof that he removed evidence of his actions from his SPJ blog. I am sorry I don’t have the contacts right at my fingertips. I have not been expecting any help for at least two years, and am having myriad tech problems with my laptop. However, it will take me just a couple of days to assemble the crucial links. In the meantime, my blog is packed with posts about this case, and if I can just stay on line long enough to assemble those links without getting kicked off, I will post them ASAP. Perhaps Jeff will have time to select at least a few.
Yours in struggle,
Further links to Claire O’Brien’s legal case: