Openness Through Secrecy

     Is it possible that the U. S. government has a sense of humor?
     Yes, President Obama seems like a pretty easy-going guy (or at least he plays one on TV), but you don’t expect to crack a smile when there’s a federal prosecutor in the room.
     But I’m definitely chuckling now after reading that the government has been going to court demanding subpoenas to serve on people and Internet companies that know anything about WikiLeaks.
     Irony fans are overjoyed. The irony is double-layered.
     First, the government discovers why it’s important to protect sources. The government doesn’t usually care when it wants journalists’ sources.
     Now that the government sources are betrayed, WikiLeaks doesn’t want its sources outed.
     And both the government and WikiLeaks want openness – for the other side, but not themselves because they couldn’t continue getting information without keeping secrets themselves.
     I love this. Journalism ethics classes are going to be devoting entire terms to this.
     In my strange head, it’s like watching a debate between the Pope and Richard Dawkins. Or maybe a wrestling match (that would be more fun).
     All right, I know that doesn’t make much sense but I like the image anyway.
     The only unfair part of all this is that the government can throw WikiLeaks people in jail but not vice versa. Perhaps Julian Assange should consider setting up his own country on an island somewhere. Some money-launderers could hook him up.
     How will this play out?
     I predict the formation of two new international organizations: The Anonymous Coalition for Openness and Facebook of Secrecy.
     You heard it here first (but don’t tell anyone).
     
     BAD MATCH. Most of the time, the concept of community property seems fair. If you want a divorce, just split the stuff and get on with your lives.
     But every now and then, there are marriages that cry out for unequal division. I have a classic example for you from the Massachusetts Court of Appeals in a ruling called Wolcott v. Wolcott.
     This may also qualify as one of the worst marriages ever.
     You’re going to want to read this yourself so I won’t spoil all of it for you, but here’s my favorite part:
     “The wife’s former coworker, Jill Scibelli, testified as to a conversation she had with the wife on February 23, 2006, during which the wife indicated she was unhappy with her husband and asked if Scibelli’s husband could ‘take care of a problem’ for her by ‘get[ting] rid of something.’ When Scibelli responded that her husband was simply a chef and could not help with that sort of ‘problem,’ the wife asked Scibelli if her husband was related to someone who could help.”
     If you’re married to someone who thinks a chef might be willing to kill you, you’ve probably got a problem.
     Hey, those guys have got sharp knives.
     
     DID HE MEAN THAT? Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d see in an appellate ruling: “My wife’s views, public or private, as to any issues that may come before this court, constitutional or otherwise, are of no consequence.”
     Let’s hope she didn’t read that.
     In case you’re wondering, the sentence appears in an explanation of a recusal denial by Ninth U. S. Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the challenge to the California ballot proposition outlawing gay marriage.
     The basis for the challenge to Judge Reinhardt was that his wife had been executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and, therefore, had opinions.
     Now imagine lawyers cross-examining the close relatives of every judge that hears their cases.
     That might be fun but we’d end up with judges who could only marry mail-order spouses who speak no English.
     So, OK, what Reinhardt meant was that the wife’s views were of no consequence to his judging – but it’s so much more fun to take stuff out of context.
     That’s the duty of the media and I can’t shirk it.

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