Free the speech!

Pondering a paradox: Bites has been pondering the Information Paradox lately. What, you may ask, is the Information Paradox? Good question. The Information Paradox is this: never has there been so much information available to the average citizen, and never have there been such aggressive efforts to control what information the citizens receive.

For every journalist out there trying to discover and convey the truth, there are at least a few flaks trying to hinder that effort, ironically doing so under the guise of trying to help. Flaks—those who work in public relations, communications, press offices or the other information-control euphemisms—speak of “making sure we speak with one voice.”

But it’s really about control. It’s been said that information is power, and if so, then control of information means controlling the power, rather than allowing it to be disseminated freely among the masses.

So rather than speaking to a store manager about some local employment trend, you get referred to a spokesman from the corporate office across the country. Or rather than talking to the Sacramento Police officer who investigated a crime, or being able to read the report yourself, you need to go through Sgt. Daniel Hahn, who often doesn’t return phone calls, doesn’t know about the information you’re after, or who practices deceptions like leaving out key pieces of information that might reflect favorably on a suspect.

Go ahead, Dan, give Bites a call to challenge that characterization. We’ve got several columns’ worth of material to back it up.

Catalyst: So, what sparked Bites’ ruminations on the Information Paradox? It’s not a “what” as much as a “who,” and that “who” is Marc Kaplan, an internal affairs investigator with the California Department of Corrections.

Kaplan called SN&R last week as part of his investigation of Jesse Bobbitt, a correctional officer from California State Prison Sacramento who we interviewed for our 15 Minutes feature on April 4. Bobbitt’s crime was talking to us without working through CDC flaks to do so, for which the 15-year veteran could be fired.

But Kaplan said it probably wouldn’t come to that because Bobbitt said nothing in the article “to discredit the institution,” going on to assure SN&R that “I’m not looking for a body count on this one.”

It was a strange comment that seems to imply that sometimes he does look for body counts, and it makes one wonder about the fate of whistleblowers who speak frankly about what goes on in our prisons in ways that might be perceived as discrediting the institution.

This well-placed fear to speak freely pervades large institutions in both the public and private sectors. The unfortunate result is the public often doesn’t hear information that would “discredit an institution,” and that’s a serious discredit to the First Amendment and the idealized notion of freedom held by most Americans.

Boss Ross: OK, then, moving on to poor Richie Ross.

It must be hard to be Sacramento’s premier political consultant, that courtier to the Maloofs, Mayor Heather Fargo, City Councilman Robbie Waters and others. He gives and he gives, and gets so little in return.

At least that’s what Ross is alleging in two lawsuits against Los Angeles politicos. In the last six months, Ross has sued Assemblyman Carl Washington—who last year hired Ross to help him win a seat on the Los Angeles City Council—and Marguerite Archie-Hudson—who hired Ross to help her win a Senate seat in 1998.

Despite Ross’ considerable political acumen, both candidates lost. And despite Ross’ considerable talents at wriggling money out of politicians, they both haven’t paid up. Ross alleges in the suits that Washington owes him $86,000 and attorney fees and that Archie-Hudson owes him almost $96,000 and fees.

It’s a good thing that Ross has found a long-term benefactor in the Sacramento Kings while the team tries to get a downtown arena built at taxpayers’ expense in Sacramento. That cash cow could keep him from starving.