Tag Archives: John Sununu

John Sununu’s muddled shield-law soliloquy

Good luck making sense of John Sununu’s column in today’s Boston Globe about efforts to enact a federal shield law, which would allow journalists greater leeway in protecting their sources.

First he asserts that “our Constitution’s First Amendment already offers the press unequivocal protection,” seeming to position himself as an absolutist on the matter. He does not mention what he plans to do about Branzburg v. Hayes, the 1972 Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment does not, in fact, include a shield privilege.

Ah, but no so fast. Farther down, Sununu pulls a switcheroo and argues that a shield law might encourage irresponsible journalism:

By protecting and encouraging the use of anonymous sources, the law may encourage a cavalier approach to checking multiple sources or leaking sensitive information. It could also provide unwarranted protection to government or private-sector workers using anonymous leaks to undermine their supervisors.

So which is it? We don’t need a shield law because the First Amendment already allows journalists to protect their sources? Or we don’t need a shield law because journalists shouldn’t be allowed to protect their sources?

It’s pretty hard to agree or disagree with a columnist when you can’t figure out what he’s trying to say — or, as I suspect is the case here, when he has no idea what he’s writing about. Just a mess.

Sununu blasts MIT and Carmen Ortiz in Swartz case

It’s interesting that even a conservative like John E. Sununu is disgusted with the actions of MIT and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz regarding their investigation of the late Internet democracy activist Aaron Swartz.

Sununu, an MIT graduate with some serious basketball moves, writes in The Boston Globe that Swartz was charged criminally for behavior that in an earlier time might have been considered no more serious than any one of a number of pranks for which the university is known. The whole thing, he says, should have been handled in house:

Whereas the institute once would have taken pains to find an appropriate and internal resolution to violations of regulations — and even laws — within its campus, it chose to defer to others. That reaction isn’t unique to MIT, but rather a reflection of gradual changes in accepted cultural and government behavior over the past 20 years. Today, regulators and prosecutors regularly use their power to impose agreements, plea bargains, and consent decrees with little judicial review. They threaten the maximum penalty allowable — regardless of whether a rational mind would consider it fitting for the infraction — in order to gain an outcome that enhances their stature or pleases their political base.

Meanwhile, Noam Cohen of The New York Times takes a detailed look at how MIT caught Swartz, who downloaded nearly 5 million academic articles from the JSTOR subscription service without authorization.

John Sununu levels a false accusation

John Sununu makes a false claim today in his Boston Globe column, which he devotes to a tiresome defense of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

The former Republican senator writes that Brad DeLong, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, had called on Harvard University to fire the historian Niall Ferguson over his recent Newsweek cover story on the alleged failures of President Obama. “A Berkeley professor more or less demanded that Harvard ‘fire his ass'” is how Sununu puts it.

That would be a pretty amazing statement by DeLong if it were true. Sununu is claiming, in effect, that DeLong, a member of the academy, is calling on Harvard to violate a colleague’s academic freedom solely because he doesn’t like what he’s written. As I said: If it were true. It’s not.

In the online version of his column, Sununu helpfully provides a link to DeLong’s blog post. And here is what DeLong actually wrote:

Fire his ass.

Fire his ass from Newsweek, and the Daily Beast.

Convene a committee at Harvard to impose proper sanctions on this degree of intellectual dishonesty.

In an “update,” DeLong clarifies his Harvard reference: “Not that I claim to know what the proper sanctions are, you understand. But we should be inquiring into what they are.”

Now, let me hasten to say that I’m troubled by DeLong’s actual position — that Harvard should look into disciplining Ferguson. But that is a long, long way from calling on Harvard to fire him.

And I should note that DeLong and a number of other critics contend that Ferguson went far beyond expressing anti-Obama opinions, veering into deliberate falsehoods in order to bolster his argument that Obama’s presidency is a failure. (Here is the full bill of particulars compiled by the Atlantic, which I found via the estimable Charlie Pierce.) That could be considered academic misconduct, so DeLong is not completely off the mark — though it strikes me as extreme and unwarranted under the circumstances. Banging out a screed for Tina Brown isn’t exactly the same thing as falsifying academic research.

My issue isn’t with DeLong or Ferguson, though. It’s with Sununu, who has blithely and wrongly slimed DeLong. Perhaps because he didn’t name DeLong, he thought it was all right. Perhaps he thought including the phrase “more or less” would get him off the hook.

Finally, what is up with the Globe’s editors? If I can click on Sununu’s link, so could they.

John Sununu’s complicated alliances

John Sununu

Boston Globe editorial-page editor Peter Canellos and I recently exchanged some emails over Globe op-ed columnist John Sununu’s lobbying work on behalf of Akin Gump. I ended up choosing not to write about Sununu because I was satisfied that Sununu’s non-disclosure in his columns, though potentially problematic, did not rise to the level of unethical behavior. It was also clear that I’d need to do a lot more research than I had time for in order to put some flesh on the bones.

Today Media Matters, a prominent liberal media-watch organization, weighs in. And I don’t regret my decision. Oliver Willis and Joe Strupp have really done their homework, only to find that the whole situation is fairly ambiguous. It looks like they got excited about the chance to write that the former New Hampshire senator was using the Globe to further his interests in such controversial practices as hydrofracking only to find that Sununu’s ties to Akin Gump are rather tangential.

One thing Willis and Strupp don’t mention is that Sununu has used his column to carry water for Mitt Romney on several occasions, including the run-up to the New Hampshire primary. This one, for instance, couldn’t be any more favorable if one of Romney’s kids had written it. Sununu did not endorse anyone, but his column dutifully noted that his father, former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, had endorsed Romney.

There is a larger question here. Why do news organizations use political partisans and lobbyists — and people who are both — to write opinion pieces for them? That, to me, is the real issue. I find nothing in Sununu’s columns that are insightful or fresh enough to make me think he earned a piece of the valuable real estate he commands. He’s there because of who he is, not because of what he has to say.

I don’t mind strong opinions. Frankly, I’d like to see more of them in the Globe. But if I want those opinions from a politician-turned-lobbyist, I can always turn on cable TV.

In New Hampshire, criminalizing political speech

Kelly Ayotte

New Hampshire Republicans have hit upon a novel idea to help U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte: lock up a pollster hired by one of her opponents for the crime of engaging in political speech.

According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state GOP, chaired by Gov. John Sununu, has asked Attorney General Michael Delaney to investigate an allegation of push-polling by a pollster hired on behalf of Democratic congressional candidate Paul Hodes.

Push-polling is the practice of asking leading, negative questions of a rival candidate’s likely supporters. According to the Union Leader, respondents who identified themselves as leaning toward Ayotte were asked about her alleged inaction regarding a mortgage scandal that unfolded when she was New Hampshire’s attorney general and her deletion of e-mails when she stepped down from that office.

The Union Leader found that the calls were made on Hodes’ behalf by Mountain West Research, an Idaho-based polling firm hired, in turn, by Anzalone Liszt Research, a national outfit whose clients include Hodes. The Hodes campaign hasn’t exactly denied the allegation.

Now, as it happens, negative push-polling is illegal in New Hampshire unless the pollster identifies the candidate on whose behalf the call is being made and provides some other information as well. That means someone — an executive of one of the polling firms, or perhaps even Hodes himself — could be found to have broken the law.

It’s not clear what the maximum punishment could be. The Union Leader reports that the top penalty is a $1,000 civil fine. But an Associated Press story that appears in today’s Boston Globe reports that Associate Attorney General Richard Head says a violation could also carry with it a one-year prison term.

The law itself is an affront to freedom of speech, and so is the Republican Party’s attempt to use it to silence the opposition. Push-polling is a sleazy, underhanded campaign tactic — which means that it’s exactly the sort of political speech the First Amendment was designed to protect.

We await Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr’s take on all this.

Photo (cc) by Travis Warren and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.