However, I've thought about former ABC newswoman Linda Douglass’ creation of the aforementioned e-mail address and her plea to the public to do her Web searching and reporting job for her and come to the conclusion she’s still acting and thinking like a journalist and not like a government employee.
Journalists do this sort of thing all the time. They post messages on Web sites or send e-mails to mailing lists looking for people who are experiencing something or the other to illustrate a trend or story they’re working on. The San Diego Union-Tribune has an e-mail address and Web site for people to report problems with public agencies over things from pot holes to faulty traffic signals to RVs parked on the side of the road. The idea for the recurring feature was apparently “borrowed” from the San Francisco Chronicle many years ago.
So, this is how journalists operate. I’ve no doubt that – minus the obvious advocacy – Douglass would have done exactly the same thing from her perch at ABC or National Journal in order to gather information.
But Douglass isn’t a member of the media anymore; she’s part of the government. And that’s where this e-mail address starts to get creepy, potentially illegal and wholly out of line.
You had a slew of civil libertarians and left wing nutjobs go absolutely ape when, in the days after the 9-11 attacks, government spokespeople got on TV and asked the public to be on the lookout for suspicious looking characters or anything out of the ordinary and to report it to authorities. That was at least somewhat defensible considering what had just happened. This reporting isn’t about saving lives – it’s about a political disagreement.
I can understand, given her background, why Douglass created the e-mail address. The failure to shut it down after the uproar and the outrage is the big problem here.
And, if no one else is going to do it, this weekend very well may find me filing FOIA requests for all e-mails sent to that address.