GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 13, 2012

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Keeping up pressure -- and coverage -- of overdue report

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Ray Lamont
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Our front page today includes a story about the latest update regarding the so-called second Swartwood report — essentially the findings of an in-depth look by a special investigator into some 66 cases of alleged abuse and excessive enforcement by NOAA policing personnel against New England and other Northeast fishermen.

By my count, and according to our archives, this is the 16th news story on the report, which was completed and submitted to the Department of Commerce in March. And there have been a handful of editorials about its status as well.

Yet the basic core nugget of news is the same – that Commerce officials still have not released the report, and will not provide a time frame for when they will.

So is it really news? If there is, on the most basic level, no hard news to update, is it even worth updating? Why, you might ask, would your community’s newspaper keep doing that?

For starters, yes, in my mind, the government’s adamant stonewalling on this report very much remains news.

Let’s remember that this report is one commissioned by then-Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and it is being paid for with taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, so it is very much a public document. Also, remember this second, more thorough investigation by Charles B. Swartwood, a retired federal magistrate and a one-time chairman of the Massachusetts Ethics Commission, was commissioned on the heels of his first probe, which, in 2010 and into 2011, found a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement system so excessive and vengeful – from its policing agents right through its legal prosecutors —that Locke himself saw the need to both pay back more than $600,000 in reparations to abused fishermen and fishing businesses, and to issue a formal government apology.

That would lead us to believe that a 554-page second report by Swartwood could also spotlight the need to right other wrongs against fishermen out of Gloucester and other New England ports. And we recognize that they – and you, as taxpayers paying the freight for these government-led policing and judicial atrocities — have the right to know what they are.

Beyond all of that, however, lies our basic responsibility to fight to ensure that our government is held accountable, just as any citizen would be who perpetrated wrongs such as dealing out excessive fines, presenting knowingly flawed evidence, shredding documents believed relevant to the cases involved, and other cases of malfeasance for which no one has ever been charged or punished, with those involved still living comfortably on the public payroll. And, yes, we will keep up pressuring those shielding this important document until it is, indeed, released.

It’s important to note that, as all of this goes forward, each of the stories has included a number of new elements – most notably reporting that Democratic Congressman John Tierney and Republican Sen. Scott Brown, especially, have stepped up their own push to free up the documents, with U.S. Sen. John Kerry mouthing those sentiments as well. Yet a story two weeks ago also rightly noted that Kerry’s brother, Cameron Kerry, is the Commerce Department’s chief general counsel who, some could suggest, is among those who’ve been sitting on the report for seven months in the first place.

I guess our primary reason for continuing to press for this report – and for making sure you know that Commerce and NOAA officials are going to extraordinary lengths to deny it even to our federal lawmakers – is to ensure that the abused fishermen and taxpayers who have to cover the growing costs of this shameful conduct carried out in our name are able to get the justice they deserve.

As Tierney himself suggests in today’s Page 1 story, justice delayed is justice denied. Our own federal officials cannot be allowed to hide or walk away from the injustices we expect to see identified in this report. And we will be reporting its status until, and likely beyond, its full release.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there an issue you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3438, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.