Hazel O'Leary: Carma Chameleon

By Kirtley, Jane | American Journalism Review, January-February 1996 | Go to article overview

Hazel O'Leary: Carma Chameleon


Kirtley, Jane, American Journalism Review


When it comes to invading privacy, who is the worst offender?

According to Alan F. Westin, a professor of public law and government at Columbia University, the, greatest violators of privacy are the media.

Speaking at a symposium on privacy and public policy in Hartford, Connecticut, Westin opined that the media often "go too far" in their efforts to gather and disseminate news, even though the First Amendment may give them the right to do so.

It is intriguing that Westin would single Out the press. His thesis presumes that media intrusions into citizens' private lives far exceed those Of other commercial entities, such as direct marketers or credit reporting agencies like Equifax, for whom Westin, incidentally, has worked as a consultant.

Furthermore, news organizations' "excesses" in reporting on individuals pale in comparison to those of law enforcement officials engaged in surveillance of individuals. Westin's position seems particularly laughable in light of the FBI's crusade to obtain broader authority to tap telephone lines. But of course, as Edward J. Appel, director of counterintelligence at the National Security Council, said at one of the Panel sessions, "If an intelligence agency violates privacy, it's doing it for the good of the United States."

Presumably the Department of Energy was also acting with "the good" of the republic in mind when it decided to pay more than $40,000 to Carma International, a private company, to monitor and analyze news coverage of the agency. Although Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary denied requesting it, Carma also provided DOE with "favorability" ratings for news outlets, reporters and news sources.

O'Leary said that the agency wasn't trying to develop an "enemies" list, nor to single out journalists who wrote positive stories for favored treatment; all DOE was trying to do was gauge whether it was getting its message across. As it turned out, O'Leary said--as if this ends the matter--she didn't find the reports to be that useful anyway.

In the wake of bipartisan calls for O'Leary's resignation, the White House apparently decided that a tongue-lashing--and an order to repay the tab from her office account--was sufficient punishment. After all, the White House said in a statement, O'Leary has been an effective Cabinet member, and "this matter should not detract from that record. …

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