“Questions aren’t attacks.”
That was a key point made by Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed columnist Helen Ubinas in Tuesday’s paper.
It was the second time someone at the Inquirer has criticized the Cherelle Parker regime’s gag order policy on what is supposed to be public information.
New mayors usually get a 100-day honeymoon, but this one looks like it’s getting cut short — deservedly.
As President Lyndon B. Johnson reportedly said after CBS anchor Walter Cronkite reported that he saw no way for the U.S. to win the Vietnam war, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
If Parker loses the Inquirer, she loses Philadelphia. Her high-handed oppression of public information is putting her on that path.
Ubinas wrote, following an earlier report in the Inky’s Clout column, that just as the Parker Administration was birthed, newly appointed managing director Adam Thiel put out an aggressive email, to all department heads, in CAPS, that all public statements need to be approved by Queen Cherelle:
“To be absolutely clear, NO MEDIA INTERVIEWS, SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS, OR STATEMENTS OF ANY, KIND-UNTIL/UNLESS APPROVED IN ADVANCE BY MAYOR’S COMMUNICATIONS,” Thiel wrote on Jan. 18.
Well, if that is going to be policy, why the hell does the city spend millions (my estimate) on communications people in every damn department? Since they have been castrated by Thiel, why not fire them and spend their salaries on schools?
As Clout reported earlier, based on some intercepted emails circulated among Parker’s staff, smaller news outlets, and independent journalists (like me), were to be stiffed, all while claiming the virtue of “transparency.” From Inquirer reporting, I gleaned not even all of them were getting speedy replies to questions.
Insecure politicians fear the press, and hard ball questions. Gag orders almost always fail because every administration has staffers who will leak public information because they believe the people have a right to know.
The wildly successful Ed Rendell administration allowed department heads to field questions about their departments. Access to information slowly shriveled over the years to the velvet curtain Parker has constructed.
She is coming off a little authoritarian.
On Wednesday, the Inquirer revealed a previously unreported part of Queen Cherelle’s heavy-handed dictum: Every damn social media post — from Facebook posts to Instagram announcements — have to be approved by the mayor’s office. Some public libraries notified their followers messages would no longer be posted in real time, and would probably be fewer, thanks to an expected log jam in the mayor’s press office.
It is utterly indisputable that the policy will slow communications. As the rest of the world communicates with space age technology, Queen Cherelle reaches for the buggy whip. Staffers ought to be happy they don’t need mayoral escorts when going to the restroom. Yet.
Ubinas used the news filter to springboard to questions about the controversial police shooting of Alexander Spencer during a stop and frisk (a policy Parker approves to the dismay of progressives) in a corner deli.
Police released a short video, which did not satisfy critics, and then released a longer one, followed by a news conference with Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel and other city officials. Despite saying, “Our goal is to be transparent in this work,” Bethel took no questions from the press.
He gets an F for transparency.
At Parker’s Educational Nominating Panel, Ubinas reported, which will select the next school board and which was criticized as being under publicized, the public was not allowed to comment, nor ask questions.
The Panel gets an F.
Across the river Styx, in City Council, I have spent a week trying to get a simple question answered: What is the budget for the Philadelphia Reparations Task Force that City Council created?
I asked the mayor’s office, which said I should ask the bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier. I have emailed her communitiins guy, Harrison Feinman twice since Feb, 1 and have not even received an acknowledgement of the request,
Gauthier gets an F.
I have filed a freedom of information request with the city. That sometimes works.
Parker’s spokesman, Joe Grace (a former Daily News colleague), says give it time, it will work out, some departments already have been authorized to post non-sensitive material without prior clearance. Parker’s allies say she is new in the job, cut her some slack.
Sorry, she has been an elected official in Philadelphia and Harrisburg for most of her adult life. There are no excuses. She knows the ropes. She ought to be cutting the media some slack.
Yes, there is natural tension between reporters who always want more and elected officials who generally are happy to avoid questions, but questions are important.
As Ubinas wrote, “The public is not the enemy— neither are the journalists doing their jobs on behalf of Philadelphians who deserve more than just a promise of transparency.”
Parker better start tearing down the velvet wall she has constructed if she wants to change that F to a C.