Well, it’s been about a month since Texas Attorney General spokesman Marc Rylander bloviated his way into the headlines.
I find myself still seething over his remarks during an AG’s training conference, in which he slandered our profession and essentially encouraged public information officers for governmental entities to slow-ball public information requests from the news media.
Nearly every day, I find myself turning the whole episode over in my mind. His remarks have me reacting in so many ways. Let me count some of them.
First, Rylander’s words reeked of malice – a reckless disregard for the truth. He painted reporters as lazy internet trolls who could care less about providing balanced news. “Everything is worldwide web-driven,” he said. “Reporters don’t ever have to leave their apartment or their house. They troll Twitter all morning, steal a bunch of ideas and jot down some crappy article by 3 o’clock in the afternoon so it can get published or put on television that night.”
Noting that “what you see in the news is opinions of what people wrote on Twitter and social media during the day,” Rylander cautioned the audience that “you have to be in the mindset that these people are not doing their homework; they’re not trying to present both sides of every question to our readers. . . .”
I’ve been in this business nearly 35 years and have never personally known the type of reporter Rylander described. The reporters I have known work hard to try and provide balanced coverage to their readers. Actually, I find it really rich that Rylander accuses reporters of not doing their homework. Because in recent years it has been the likes of Rylander and the garbage he preaches that has made it increasingly difficult for reporters to do their “homework” and get all the information they need for a balanced, complete story to which readers are entitled.
My reporters are constantly forced to file FOI requests from local public information officers to access the most basic and obviously public information. And my newspaper is a penny waiting for change for FOI rulings from the AG’s office on such requests.
I guess now I know why. Especially since Attorney General Ken Paxton has remained silent on Rylander’s remarks. I guess what Rylander said is how the AG’s office really feels and how they plan to conduct themselves toward journalists and news organization.
“Journalists and reporters no longer have ethical responsibilities,” Rylander proclaimed at one point during his rant.
Truth be told, what Rylander said now calls into question whether the AG’s office can be expected to have any ethical responsibilities when it comes to enforcing open government laws in this state. And that’s a real shame, because there are lots of hard-working lawyers in that office who take seriously their duty to act fairly and impartially and with fealty to the laws they are sworn to uphold.
So actually, what Rylander had to say not only damaged the reputations of journalists but also members of the very office he is supposed to represent.
And he did absolutely nothing to promote better understanding, communication and cooperation between governmental entities and the news media – so both can do their jobs better and more responsibly.
That makes me sad. It’s just one more anecdote that makes me feel like our system in this country is breaking down more and more. Respect is being lost for so many of our institutions. Differences of opinion result in instant vilification.
Rylander appeared at a conference in which the Attorney General’s Office was offering training to public information officers — a session whose purpose was to help these representatives better understand their role in ensuring the public information laws of this state are respected and followed. As spokesman for the office responsible for enforcing the state’s constitution and laws, Rylander could have helped underscore just how important this is.
Instead he chose to sound more like a hack lobbyist coaching attendees on how to game the system.