--2 Sheriff cuffs SFR and the NM press
       
Sept. 22, 2014

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Sheriff cuffs SFR and the NM press

March 29, 2009, 12:00 am
By SFR Staff
SFR has a pretty decent relationship with Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano. Not only do we whole-heartedly approve of his blogging, but we greatly appreciate his open-cell phone policy and his willingness to engage in our quasi-journalistic follies (like SFR's zombie issue).

That said, we are feeling a little grumbly about his recent blog post "Has the legislature become beholden to the media?" in which he suggest that press corps oughta register as lobbyists. In the sheriff's words:
Now its often been said don't mess with the person who buys their ink by the barrel but this year more than any the media was relentless and had no problem taking sides on the issues and pushing their agenda using all forms of traditional and non traditional media outlets. Politicians have to pay attention to the media at least some of the time, especially during elections when if the news media gets the scent of blood they can devour a candidate. However, during this legislative session the press seems to have wielded a exceptional amount of influence. You can read the blogs and news stories after the previously mentioned bills were passed and you will see a more than sufficient amount of celebrating....

...Often times legislators are accused of being beholden to lobbyists when they listen to them or vote in their favor. So what about now that the media has won so many fights in one session. Would anyone in the media dare to write an editorial exclaiming that the media has had undue influence and the legislature has become beholden to the media lobby? I will not hold my breath.

The issues he's talking about: sunshine and ethics. Now, Solano doesn't single out any particular media organization, but two publications were behind the live-blogging phenom: the New Mexico Independent and the Santa Fe Reporter. Two other bloggers were behind the (non-legislator) live web-casting: MG Bralley and Ched MacQuigg, who really oughta be the model for how easy and how good a video feed can be when the legislature next broaches the issue.



NMI editor (and former SFR staff writer) David Alire Garcia immediately took issue with Solano's characterization of media power:
[T]he “media” isn't monolithic, despite Solano's aforementioned broad brush.

And perhaps the larger point is that if the media is doing its job — providing accurate information, connecting dots, and holding power accountable — it's not the media that wins.

It's the public that wins.

Werd. Now, I'll freely admit that I do engage in certain biases, particularly when it comes to transparency, ethics, free speech and human rights. The Legislature should be web-casted.  Companies shouldn't win contracts in exchange for campaign contributions. Congress should pass the Free Flow of Information Act. Torture is bad.

And of course, we lean towards Rep. Lucky Varela over Sen. John Arthur Smith when it comes to College of Santa Fe.

I don't really believe objectivity exists, only the conventions and formulas people have come to expect in lieu of objectivity. For me, part of the point of free expression and a free press is taking a position, presenting our interpretation. The truth we speak to power is a salty, grainy truth.

I'll also admit that I'll tongue-in-cheekily take credit for everything from killing the county's plans to take the Inmate Inquiry system offline to spoiling the 2008 primary election. However, in the case of the 2009 legislative session, I think the whole characterization is unfair. Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones deserves a lot more credit for Web casting--as documented by SFR, Lady Sunlight was the first to get a camera up in committee. Sen. Dede Feldman deserves a lot more credit for ethics reform. The press certainly was certainly unified in pushing the borders of media technology. If anything, we succeeded in changing how the media covers government and the way in which we connect the public to its politicians

In the last year and a half, I can think of two specific occasions in which, as a member of the press, I directly influenced government: First, when the governor ordered that the State Investment Council divest from companies doing business in Sudan. Second, when the Secretary of State's office fined Jerome Block Jr.

Is the governor then beholden to the media? Or was he just acting on new information? Is the Secretary of State beholden to the media? Or was she just reacting to an investigation? I mean, the only evidence of media beholden-ness that seems valid to me is Speaker Ben Lujan's bills to change the publication policies for legal ads. And honestly, if you look at the 300+ bills that passed, I don't think the press took a side in that many fights this year.

Solano argues:
So, we force anyone who actively lobbies our politicians to register as lobbyists. Should the media once they switch gears from just reporting the news to pushing an agenda be forced to register as lobbyists?...Can you be a watchdog and take sides on issues at the same time?

Editorialization isn't the same as lobbying. Money isn't donated. We don't hold closed door negotiations. Journalists don't hand pre-written legislation to lawmakers (except for laughs). We don't testify in committee.

In any case, I personally saw Solano at least twice in the roundhouse, in uniform, supporting/opposing legislation.

Many sheriffs were opposing legislation that would've barred domestic violence offenders from becoming police officers*. Who were the sheriffs representing? The constituents who put them in uniform, or their officers? The House universally thought the bill was in its constituents' best interest; the passed it 63-0. The bill died in the Senate: By Solano's logic, does that mean our senators are beholden to wife-beating deputies?

More rhetorical questions: Can sheriffs be trusted to objectively enforce the law if they're simultaneously trying to change it? Should Solano register as a lobbyist?

No, because advocacy ain't the same as lobbying, especially when you're advocating for yourself.

UPDATED: Click for Sheriff Solano's rebuttal

MG Bralley also responds at length.

*Solano says he testified about retirement fund legislation and opposed certain provisions in the racial profiling ban. However, he says he did not take a public position on the DV bill. This is a matter of disagreement between Solano and myself: I remember the  bill's first hearing before the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee. It was packed to overflow. Solano was in the hallway and explained he was there to show support for the other sheriffs. Those sheriffs were there to testify in opposition to the bill. Solano disputes that this constitutes a position on his part...I guess you could call this a case of broom calling the brush broad.

 

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