If I break down the walls, I will be surrounded
The task of following Tao is to cease all distinctions between the self and the outside world. It is only a matter of convenience that we label things inside and outside, subjective and objective. Indeed, it is only at elementary stages that we should talk of a Tao to follow. For true enlightenment is the realization not that there is a Tao to follow but that we ourselves are Tao.
That understanding comes after a simple breaking down of a wall, a shattering of the mistaken notion that there is something inherent in this life that divides us from Tao. Once the wall is broken, we are inundated by Tao. We are Tao.
Do we continue to meditate once we come to this understanding? We still do, but it is no longer a solitary and isolated activity. It is a part of life, as natural as breathing. When you can bring yourself to the understanding that there is no difference between you and Tao and that there is no difference between meditation and “ordinary” activities, then you are well on your way to being on with Tao.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
archived at http://www.duckdaotsu.org/105/oneness.html
a reading list of books and interpretations of the Daodejing is available at
There are people in this world who have had enough adventures for several lifetimes. They are the closest conception we can have of immortals. Yet some of these people are hopelessly immature. After all, whenever life became difficult for them, they changed to a new path and by luck the new one was always rich and fruitful. Life came so easily that they took more than one helping.
Unfortunately, maturity only comes from the threat of mortality. Success only comes from the threat of failure. Without pressure, we would not plan, utilize wisdom, or exercise care. We realize that we have only a very short time to make an achievement, to prove that our existence was worthwhile, and so we strive harder. An immortal can never conceive of such effort.
It would be good if our religious traditions provided us with a foolproof way through life. After all, we live somewhat haphazardly: Our lives are a tapestry woven of both mistakes and successes. Religion doesn’t always provide us with a meaningful pattern. We must make our decisions the best that we can, and as we mature, we can see our way better.
We are motivated by death. We are frightened by failure. We have to make our peace with this mysterious, sometimes hostile world. An immortal does not need to cope with any of this. But we mortals must, and we must strive to make a good showing for ourselves.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
There are many people who endeavor to know Tao. In the greatest sincerity, they take music lessons, read scriptures, learn foreign languages, study nutrition, change their dress, and go to temples—all in the hopes that they will reach Tao. Sadly, they miss it by a hair’s breadth. For a person to awaken to Tao, someone must give them a spark. Perhaps this is what is called direct transmission. It is odd, but this is the only way that knowledge of Tao is passed on.
Book knowledge can help and give one a deep theoretical background, but the true understanding of Tao still comes person to person. There is no other way.
So if you have any true understanding of Tao, you got it from someone. If you meet someone else who needs that spark and you are in the position to give it, then do so. Don’t be selfish. Thee are so many people out there who want guidance and who cannot get it. If you can make a difference for at least one person, then you have tremendous merit indeed.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
archived at http://www.duckdaotsu.org/105/righting.html
a reading list of books and interpretations of the Daodejing is available at
Well, it's official: 2005 is the busiest hurricane season since we began keeping records in the mid-1800's. We've actually run out of women's alphabetical names and . What kind of self-respecting storm goes by the name Epsilon? Florida has been hit by 8 hurricanes in the last 15 months. It's gotten so crazy that Dubya is actually appealing to the American public with a message of energy conservation. I can't wait to see him in his cardigan this winter.
This Hurricane season has proven two things. First, the fact that Climate Change is real, and it BLOWS (literally)! Second, we are on our own out here. Government is clueless, and so are corporations. For our children's sake, we'd better get busy weaning ourselves from the "Oil Teat." Because there ain't no one in power working on it. There are only 2 US-owned automobile companies left: Ford and GM. Both of them are tanking. Shockingly, until last month, neither of them seemed to have a clue that their giant gas-guzzling fleets of SUVs, Trucks, and Big-Ass Cars leave them vulnerable to spikes in the price of oil. Duh!
Even the oil companies themselves are talking about the reality of "Peak Oil" being upon us. They should know, right? Wouldn't you expect the Big Dogs in Detroit to have started making some adjustments by now? No, rather than investing in new technologies and taking their fleets in a greener direction, they've decide to spend hundreds of millions greening up their images while fighting against fuel-efficiency mandates.
America has a deadly addiction to oil. We now devour twenty-five percent of the world's oil. Forty percent of that oil is consumed by the cars and trucks that we drive. Our dependence spawns resource wars that breed hatred and put our young people in harms way. It wreaks chaos with our climate, creating Super-Storms that take thousands of lives and destroy communities. It threatens front-line indigenous communities that live in oil-rich regions around the world. Yet, the technology exists now to dramatically raise the fuel efficiency of our fleet.
Ford claims to be a leader in the auto industry, both in terms of environmental consciousness and technological innovation. Yet their cars and trucks have had the worst average fuel economy of the Big Three for six years running. Ford's 2005 fleet of cars and trucks get fewer miles per gallon than its Model T fleet did. If that ain't driving in reverse, I don't know what is.
The Ruckus Society has joined forces with Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange on the Jumpstart Ford Campaign. We have reunited three key organizations that played a critical role in rocking the World Trade Organization to its knees during the nonviolent actions in Seattle 1999. We are demanding that Ford increase the average fuel efficiency of its fleet to 50 mpg by 2010 and that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2020. We cannot afford to wait any longer!
Ruckus will leverage the talents of our volunteer network of action trainers and coordinators to bring new voices and perspectives into the most strategic campaign for energy solutions now taking place in the North America. We will provide opportunities for emerging leaders from Indigenous Nations in the United States and Canada to bring their unique perspectives to this struggle while taking hard skills back to their communities.
Until we break the lock step juggernaut that is "Big Auto," we will never build the political power to bring "Big Oil" to heel. We believe that by driving Ford towards reinventing itself, we can transform US transportation and break our addiction to oil.
The Jumpstart Ford Campaign has declared this November 12th a "National Day of Intervention" at Ford dealerships. Most dealers are independently-owned businesses. Many are already feeling the pressure of selling gas-guzzlers in the age of the hybrid. Grassroots activists will be at over 100 of locations around the US and Canada to call on dealerships to join us in pressuring Ford to make an ecological U-turn and come to its senses.Please join us if you can! CLICK HERE TO Adopt your own dealer.
(Washington, October 27, 2005) -- The House has slipped an
amendment into the Patriot Act Reauthorization Act that would
dramatically skew federal death penalty cases in favor of the
prosecution, Human Rights Watch said today.
The legislation would radically increase the number of federal crimes
drawing the death penalty, allow judges to reduce juries deciding the
death penalty to fewer than twelve persons, and allow the prosecutor to
start afresh in trying to get the death penalty with a new sentencing
jury any time even one juror resists imposing the death penalty in a
Under current federal law, the defendant is given a life sentence if a
jury of twelve does not unanimously vote for the death penalty. Under
this legislation, the prosecutor could re-impanel a new jury and try for
death once again.
"It's a strange notion of justice indeed to give prosecutors multiple
bites at the apple," said Jamie Fellner, U.S. Director of Human Rights
Watch. "Death penalty cases are already riddled with unfairness. Why
would Congress want to make them worse?"
Human Rights Watch said that the legislation would give dramatic
power to a single juror who could hold out for the death penalty – and
thus enable the prosecution to secure a new jury. Juries in death
penalty cases are already "death-qualified," meaning that anyone who
opposes the death penalty on moral, religious, or practical grounds is
excluded from the jury. Yet another legislative provision passed by the
House would tilt the trial in favor of death even further by permitting
the judge to reduce the number of jurors below twelve, with no
minimum number set. A smaller jury would make it even easier for
prosecutors to secure a unanimous verdict in favor of death.
The House provisions would also triple the number of death penalty-
eligible terrorism related crimes and allow the government to impose
the death penalty even if the defendant had no knowledge or intent to
kill. Under this legislation, an individual could be sentenced to death
for providing financial support to a designated terrorist organization
whose members caused the death of another, even if this individual did
not know or in any way intend that the members engage in any
specific acts of violence.
Rep. John Carter (R- Tex.) introduced these death penalty provisions
as last minute amendments to the House version of the Patriot Act
Reauthorization Act. They were passed by voice vote, without debate.
The Patriot Act Reauthorization Act passed by the Senate contains
none of these death penalty provisions. A final version of the
legislation is expected to emerge from conference with the Senate in
the next one to two weeks and go to the floor of both the House and
Senate for an up or down vote.
"These provisions dramatically extend the reach of the federal death
penalty and make it significantly easier for the prosecution to secure
death, an inherently cruel penalty," said Jennifer Daskal, U.S. Program
Advocate at Human Rights Watch. "Such a radical change to the
federal death penalty should not become law without public debate."
The key provisions are in Title II of H.R. 3199. Section 231 (f) allows
for the impaneling of consecutive juries in the penalty phase of a death
penalty trial, and Sections 211 and 214 together add a long list of new
federal death penalty eligible crimes that do not carry the intent
requirement laid out in 18 U.S.C. § 3591(b).
The Senate version of the Patriot Act Reauthorization (S.1389) does
not include these provisions.
House and Senate negotiators have begun to meet to iron out the
differences in the two bills. A final version will be voted on by named
conferees and then sent back to the House and Senate for an up or
Senate conferees are Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Orrin
Hatch (R-UT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl
Levin (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Jeff
Sessions (R-AL), Arlen Specter (R-PA).
House conferees have not yet been named.
To view this document on the Human Rights Watch web site, please
Please help support the research that made this bulletin possible. In order
to protect our objectivity, Human Rights Watch does not accept funding from
any government. We depend entirely on the generosity of people like you.
To make a contribution, please visit http://hrw.org/donations/
”Silence is the greatest of all crimes” By Mickey Z.
An interview with Peace Grandma, Rosemarie Jackowski
I've been extremely fortunate to attract an amazing mix of visitors to my blog...
...a crew self-dubbed "The Expendables." The matriarch of the Expendables is one Rosemarie Jackowski, a 67-year-old grandmother/veteran/writer from Vermont currently facing jail time for participating in an anti-war demonstration in 2003. Her journey from flag-waver to rabble-rouser is a palpable source of inspiration and an excellent illustration of the motivating power of example. When, in a recent e-mail, I wrote to her: "you rock," this was Rosemarie's reply: "Hearing that from you has made my day. Those were the words that my daughter, Christine, said to me after I was arrested. They were very special words that day because she, not too long before, had married into a Republican-type family. She means the world to me and, at the time of my arrest, I was not 100% sure of her reaction."
I interviewed Rosemarie via e-mail on October 23, 2005.
MZ: Why were you protesting and how did you end up in cuffs?
RJ: The date was March 20, 2003. It was my 66th birthday and also the beginning of the intense bombing campaign that our government named, "Shock and Awe." Prior to that date, there had been a big build up by the government. Most people forget that we were threatening the use of nuclear weapons. That is a war crime. On March 20, 2003, there were worldwide protests. In my little town of Bennington, others had planned events. I went to the center of town. There were a lot of people already there. Some others did street theater. I simply stood in silence, with my head bowed, holding my protest sign. It was the most difficult and the most solemn time of my life. Twelve of us were arrested because we were in the road at the main intersection in town.
MZ: What were you charged with?
RJ: The official charge was disorderly conduct with intent to harass and annoy. I was arrested, hand cuffed, booked, finger printed, and photographed. I would like to add here that at all times all of the protesters were peaceful. I often say that those moments, leading up to my arrest, were the most orderly moments of my life. The charge of disorderly conduct places a false image in the minds of many people.
MZ: What happened at the police station?
RJ: The act of conscience was a very solemn time for me but as soon as the man in blue said the magic words, "I will have to arrest you," my mood changed. I had conquered my fear, defeated the life-long held taboo against disobedience, and knew that my job was done for that day. When I arrived at the police station, accompanied by the mighty big guy in blue, he grabbed the protest sign out of my hands. I said, "Why did you do that" and he answered, "Because it's evidence." I said, "I know that it is evidence. It is evidence for me and that's why I need it." He was not impressed. He leaned my sign up against the back door and put me in solitary confinement. The cell was bare except for a built in wooden bench. Bolted into the bench was a set of heavy metal handcuffs. The big guy sat me down on the bench and put the cuffs on me. Then he left.
MZ: They left you all alone?
RJ: Yes, I looked around the cell and thought that it should not be so bare. It definitely needed a woman's touch. Perhaps a picture of Malcolm X would be the perfect decorating accessory. I glanced down to the cuffs that encircled my wrists. I started to examine them because I had never seen a pair close up like this before. Suddenly I realized, that because I am so small, I could easily slip the cuffs off. Ah, I thought, I have invented a new game... slip the cuffs off and then slip them back on. I played my new game for a little while but then the thought of my sign popped into my mind. I suddenly realized that I could slip out of the cuffs, go around the corner, retrieve my sign, and get back into my cell and re-cuff myself. Wow, visions of a jail break danced through my head. I quietly slipped out of the cuffs, tip-toed to the doorway of my cell, looked out, and made a mad dash towards the back door. All I wanted was my sign.
MZ: You didn't actually sneak out, did you?
RJ: Yes, but I soon heard the loudest, booming voice that I had ever heard shout, "Hey, where are you going? Get back in that cell." I told the big guy, who now appeared to be at least seven feet tall, that I just wanted my sign. I went back into my cell and re-handcuffed myself. Soon I was told to go to another room to be booked. During the booking procedure I was asked if I had any tattoos or body piercings. I answered, "No." Then I was asked if I had any aliases or was known by any other name. I first answered, "No" but then corrected myself and said, "Yes, sometimes I am called 'Mom.'" Throughout all of the proceedings, I continued to ask for the return of my sign. They kept refusing. Finally I told them that if they did not return my sign to me, the law required that they at least give me a receipt for it. I did not know if I was on firm legal ground there but it worked. I was given a receipt. Then, as I was about to leave the police station through the back door, one of the officers insisted that I go out the front door. I didn't know why but as I emerged through the door I was greeted by a group of supporters who waited and cheered each protester as he came out. It was a wonderful moment. I was asked to give a statement. I was not prepared for that but still remember what I said, "Bring the troops home now. We need them here to protect us from the government."
MZ: After hearing about all this, it's hard to believe you were once in the armed forces. Can you explain that transformation?
RJ: When I graduated from high school, I was filled with patriotism. I was a real flag waver. I believed everything that I had been taught. I was a total pacifist and that is how I wound up in the military. Hard to believe, I know. It was not until I was in my early 30's that I started to realize that what I had believed, all of my life was wrong. I felt betrayed by the system, by the schools, by the culture, etc. Since then, I have dedicated my life to unlearning what I had been taught in my younger years. It is one reason that I feel so strongly about what is happening in the schools now.
MZ: I'm not sure I understand how being a pacifist led you to the military.
RJ: I had been so brainwashed that I believed all of the propaganda about the U.S. military being the main protector of peace on the planet. Also, remember that this was before the Internet. Access to alternative publications was very limited. The flow of information is much different today.
MZ: Are you still a pacifist?
RJ: I am no longer a total pacifist. Because of the Shock and Awe bombing campaign and because I have seen the photographs of children with their heads blown apart by U.S. cluster bombs, I now believe that all of us must work to protect the lives of innocent civilians... in the words of Malcolm X, "By any means necessary."
MZ: Does your journey-from "brainwashed" to handcuffed-give you hope that others can make the same transitions?
RJ: Because I had been so affected by my school experience, I think that it gives me an advantage when I speak with students now. I have a genuine respect for the young people who hold different world views. I understand how they got where they are in their thought process because I was there once. I find it very easy to identify with and bond with some of the most right-wing students.
MZ: You certainly have genuine credibility as a veteran of both the military and the anti-war movement. Where do things stand now, re: your trial?
RJ: I was tried and convicted. The jury deliberated less than 10 minutes, which says something about the jury system. I have appealed the conviction in the Vermont Supreme Court. Currently, I wait for the decision of the court. If I win the appeal, the government will retry me. If I lose the appeal, I will probably go to prison.
MZ: If they offer you the chance to perform community service, will you choose that option?
RJ: No, and there is a reason. I have chosen to live the rest of my life in opposition, as long as the government continues to kill civilians. As I have stated in my courtroom speech, I and many others would gladly live the rest of our lives in prison if the U.S. would only stop bombing civilians. If I go to prison, I will be a model prisoner. That is different than performing community service. I do perform community service in many ways, but will refuse to perform government mandated community service. I see a big difference there.
MZ: I think many will saw you were performing community service on March 20, 2003. What can readers do to offer support?
RJ: I often say that even though a jury found me guilty, my trial was a success because the CBS-TV channel in Albany that covered the trial showed my photographs of the bombed Iraqi children on the news that night. More than anything, I want everyone to look at those photographs, which are available on the Robert Fisk site. About what will happen to me, I don't know. I would suggest letters to the editors of Vermont newspapers, but I know that most of the papers just refuse to publish them. I have been receiving a lot of support and it has made a big difference. No one will ever know how much I appreciate it. I am open for any ideas that anyone else has.
MZ: Any closing thoughts?
RJ: I just want to thank you and so many others who have offered support. I know that this is not about me. U.S. foreign policy has inflamed the passions of so many around the world. Now is a time in history when silence is the greatest of all crimes.
These are images Rosemarie mentions:
Mickey Z is the author of several books, most recently, "50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American Patriotism" (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at: http://www.mickeyz.net/
* Important health bill (S. 1057) to be marked up October 27
* Mascots challenged in three separate ways
Reauthorization of Indian Health Care Improvement Act
The bill to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act will be
marked up by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Thursday, October
27. This means the committee will work on the language of provisions of
the bill and add or reject amendments. The reauthorization has been
considered many times in the past and was almost passed during the 108th
Congress. This critical bill to update the health care delivery system
in Indian Country has had bipartisan support and has been relatively
uncontroversial. Reauthorization is a top priority for Native Americans
whose health status is far below that of other U.S. citizens.
The main opponent to the bill as drafted has been the American Dental
Association (ADA) which objects to the dental health aide therapist
program currently operating in Alaska under the auspices of the Indian
Health Service. That oral health program may be expanded to other
Indian health sites in the future. Native Alaskans have long suffered
from a lack of dental care due to the scarcity of professionals and the
remote nature of many villages. ADA argues that paraprofessionals will
perform procedures that should only be performed by dentists. Native
and non-native supporters of the dental aide program have documented its
effectiveness and point out that it parallels Alaska's successful
medical health aide program which has advanced public health goals and
wellness for Native Alaskans. The National Indian Health Board and the
National Congress of American Indians are vigorously opposing amendments
from Sen. Coburn (OK) that back the ADA position.
Mascots in the News
APA TAKES ADVOCACY POSITION ON SOCIAL CONTROVERSY
The American Psychological Association (APA) is calling on all schools,
universities, colleges, professional athletic teams and organizations to
discontinue the use of American Indian mascots and nicknames. The APA
bases its stance on a growing body of evidence showing that Indian
mascots negatively affect the social identity and self-esteem of
American Indian students and perpetuate long-held stereotypes and
misleading racial representations of Native Americans among non-natives.
Having a prestigious, non-native organization enter the controversy on
the side of Native Americans, who have opposed the use of mascots for
years, is a significant development.
Many high schools have already changed team names at the request of
tribes. In the past decade, it has become the exception rather than the
rule for a high school to keep the Native name and mascot. Educators
differ from coaches, alumni, and financial backers who are more likely
to want to continue the mascot traditions. Many principals and even
school boards have taken the same position that psychologists are
taking: to honor the wishes of indigenous people.
NCAA CREATES UPROAR IN ITS DEMAND FOR RESPECT
The APA's declaration comes in the midst of a national debate in sports
columns and newspaper editorials over Indian mascots. The controversy
was spurred by the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA)
post-season ban on the use of college and university mascots, nicknames,
and logos found to be hostile and abusive symbols. Some officials at
universities and colleges with native mascots do not believe nicknames
or half-time performances are offensive or harmful. For decades
university trustees and presidents have argued their institutions are
honoring history and tribes. But the NCAA's announcement created a
larger public spotlight and required administrators, alumni, students
and faculty to actually listen to the opinions and take seriously the
requests of local native nations whose likenesses are portrayed.
Non-native fans at several universities have reacted angrily and in some
cases have mistreated Native students on campus who protested the use of
Indian mascots and disrespectful behavior during games.
Since the NCAA announced its post-season ban, some tribal councils voted
to support the continuation of a local university's mascot. These
tribal decisions have been controversial for anti-mascot advocates. The
NCAA has respected these decisions and removed some college and
university nicknames from its list of abusive symbols. To some advocates
this has seemed as if the NCAA was backing down on its original
decision. Other tribes are requesting universities to stop using them
as nicknames and mascots. Several universities, including the
University of Illinois and the University of North Dakota (UND) are
ignoring the requests of affected tribes and pushing forward with
appeals to the NCAA to remove their institution from the ban. (The NCAA
officially rejected UND's appeal for removal from the post-season ban.)
HARJO ET AL V. PRO-FOOTBALL, INC
The recent debate prompted by the NCAA's ban is not the first time the
racist connotations of Indian-based nicknames and mascots forced
institutions or professional franchises to defend themselves. In 1992,
Native Americans filed Harjo et al v Pro-Football, Inc in an attempt to
revoke the trademarks of pro-football's Washington "Redskins" on the
grounds that federal trademark law prohibits racially disparaging
content. In 1999, the Native American plaintiffs won a significant
victory when the patent office's Trademark Tribal and Appeal Board found
the "Redskins" name and trademark "disparaging." In 2003, a lower court
put the case in doubt when a judge found that the Native American
plaintiffs waited too long to object and file suit (the trademarks were
registered in 1967 and the case filed in 1992). The plaintiffs appealed
to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently ruled
unanimously--on technical grounds--that the Harjo case was prematurely
dismissed and instructed the lower court to re-examine the claims.
Washington "Redskins" owners claim the nickname and logo are meant to
honor Native Americans and the memory of a former coach. Former Sen.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (CO), a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe,
believes "a lot of people need help understanding that it's wrong to use
any derogatory name for a sports team."
"Redskin" is considered by most American Indians to be a pejorative term
comparable to the worst slurs used to demean other ethnic-racial groups.
Many religious groups including FCNL have taken public positions that
the term should not be used and that fan behavior in many sports
settings mocks and trivializes Indian culture. The debate has moved from
a consciousness raising struggle to a legislative issue. For example,
California legislators recently rejected legislation to ban the term for
high school teams.
These ongoing controversies over the use of Indian names and sports
mascots should prompt many people to challenge their perceptions of
Native Americans and deepen their knowledge of the actual culture,
symbols, rituals, and dances of First Americans. Examining why
non-natives have used Native Americans as sports-mascots is a good place
to start. This topic leads into the larger subject of anti-defamation
efforts to curtail the denigration of Native peoples in the United
To learn more about IHCIA, go to
To learn more about the APA resolution, go to
Honor the Promises to Native Americans, http://www.fcnl.org/nativeam/
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Over and over, the sages tell us that this world is but a dream.
When one awakes on a foggy mornings, with the mists obscuring hills and valleys and the trees and village buildings appearing as diaphanous apparitions, we might even agree with them. Didn’t we see this same uncertain mirage in the hills of Vermont? The hollow of the Yangtze River valley? The streets of Paris? Don’t the memories blend with the dreams and turn reality into phantasmagoria?
The world is a dream from which there is no escaping.
In this still dream, there is a crow calling. He doesn’t stop. When everything else is frozen in the sepulchral dawn, this bird continues to scream. Maybe he realizes the same dream. He protests loudly.
The ancients hold the outer reality to be unreal. But there is the inner reality too. Some of us do not readily accept the conditions of this existence. We have eyes to see, but we also have voice to refute the existential delusion.
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
archived at http://www.duckdaotsu.org/105/exisiting.html
a reading list of books and interpretations of the Daodejing is available at
Has the use of unattributed information changed over the course of your career?
I think the pendulum has now swung against it. But it’s hard to measure. I came in covering the CIA — that was my first beat. I actually never used named sources.
Hardly ever. Anyone who talks about classified documents can go to jail. I can honestly tell you I never quoted anyone on the record about a classified piece of information. And I published many classified pieces of information.
Why has the pendulum swung against anonymity, and is this generally a positive development?
We in the industry are under attack as we have never been on issues of credibility. Some of these attacks are warranted. There have been some very well-publicized mistakes and meltdowns of news organizations. But one of the things that critics have fastened onto is the problem of anonymous sources. And to be honest with you, I think it’s overblown. I don’t have a problem with anonymous sources. I think the problem is poor editing, poor reporting, poor standards, incomplete stories, stories that tell only one side. That aggravates people. That is hurting our credibility.
I Nexised the phrase ‘condition of anonymity’ for a recent sixty-day period. For The New York Times, I got 229 hits. For The Oregonian, I got two. What’s The Oregonian’s policy?
We are a paper that is very reluctant to run anonymously sourced material in the news pages. And that’s a good thing. But we should not have that prevent reporters from using anonymously sourced materials to gather information. It’s a big difference. The fact that you’re going to allow someone to go off the record in the course of gathering news may help you get somewhere that you couldn’t otherwise get. You may use what you get anonymously to leverage on-the-record confirmation, acknowledgment, whatever.
Is there any controversy over that?
There is. There are people who think that, somehow, having standards equates with never letting people speak off the record. I’ve heard some younger reporters say: ‘I’m very careful; nobody goes off the record with me.’ And I say that’s not necessarily a good sign. If you’re able to get all the scoops you think you should through that method, great, but I doubt you are.
Let’s talk about the different levels of unnamed sources.
First of all, sources who are not named, whether anonymous or not, affect the direction of every article. You go and get an interview on the record, and a guy gives you a perfect idea for a story, you go out and pursue it, and you execute it to perfection. But then his quote wasn’t quite right, so you use somebody else’s quote. He doesn’t appear in your story. And yet he’s had an extraordinary influence on the direction of the story. That’s one level of anonymity. The second level is somebody who anonymously tells you something — ‘Don’t get me involved with this, but Joe Jones has been phonying up his campaign contribution list, and you should look into Joe Jones.’ If you then go look at him and find five named sources, but you never name the source who sent you, that is also a form of anonymity. And I think that happens all the time.
Okay. Let’s talk about the classic anonymous sourcing, where we quote or paraphrase an unidentified but clearly present source. What’s okay and what isn’t?
There are orders of magnitude. The New York Times for years said they did not allow anonymous pejorative: ‘A senior administration official says John Smith is a crook.’ That was generally not allowed. But that kind of stuff did start to creep in, pre-Jayson Blair. Even worse, they allowed a lot of anonymous praise: ‘The president is just so decisive, you can’t believe the way he handled himself in that crisis.’ In a funny way, that’s as pernicious for the reader as the anonymous pejorative.
So what material, appropriately, should we be attributing to unidentified sources?
Things that are factual: How many troops have been sent to New Orleans? Did the president sign the emergency order on Monday or on Tuesday? You could use that, absolutely. It’s not opinion. If you had a document, you could find out if it’s true.
Let’s say you have a source telling you, not for attribution, a negative story about a powerful person. You believe it to be true, because it is consistent with what you already know and with the direction the facts are headed, and because you have found the source reliable in the past. Can you use that?
Now you go and confront the named person, and say, ‘This is what I’ve heard, and I want you to respond on record.’ And if that person says to you, ‘That is complete bullshit, this did not happen,’ I would be very reluctant to use an unnamed accuser against a named individual.
Compare your experiences as an investigative editor at the Times, which has been relatively free with granting anonymity, with your experience at The Oregonian, which has not.
They’re not analogous. The work we do here is investigative work that does not involve national security, that does not involve exposing classified information to public view. Also, we have in Oregon a very favorable public records law, and are able to obtain access to original documents.
I wonder if in fact The Oregonian were going after the same stories as the Times, if it were on the same playing field, might it not then be just like the Times?
Well, one of two things would happen. We would either find ourselves loosening our rules, or we would find ourselves ceding stories to the competition. I do not believe under our sort of basic guidelines that The Oregonian would have a very easy time with national security stories. In fact, there have been times where we have used anonymous sources, especially on some terrorism cases, because we decided the value of the information outweighed our extreme reluctance to use sources that way.
When your reporters have anonymous sources, do you ask them who they are?
And they tell you?
Yes, they do. That was a change for me. At the Times, before Jayson Blair, no one ever routinely asked that question. When I was running national security stories, I certainly did not routinely ask that question. I often asked about what kind of person was providing the information. How do they know this? What’s their access? On a routine story, I don’t think an editor at The New York Times would be particularly curious as to which State Department official was talking. I think now they’re more curious.
Speaking of which, you were Judith Miller’s editor for a while, including when she was working on pre-9/11 terrorism stories. What do we learn about the strengths and weaknesses of anonymous sourcing from her work?
From the pre-9/11 stuff she did on Al Qaeda, you certainly could see that she was tapping into people in the government who felt that not enough was being done. I had a fair idea who they were, and a fair idea of why they felt the way they felt. They had specific reasons that motivated them to talk to us. That’s an example where anonymous sourcing can be useful.
And her post-9/11 and Iraq WMD reporting?
I was not on deck for most of the controversial stories. There is one I edited, where we had a named source, the famous defector story in the fall of 2001. [Miller was introduced by Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi exile group to a man who claimed to have personally worked on renovations of secret WMD facilities. The claims proved false.] But there the problem wasn’t anonymity. Named sources lie, too, believe me.
What are some great stories that you were able to do without granting anonymity?
Two years ago, we did an investigation of a child death on an Indian reservation here. That is an extraordinarily difficult reporting environment. That is a culture where people do not talk about death, where it’s sacrilegious to say the name of people who have died. Nonetheless my reporters put in literally months and months building relationships out there, and people went on the record. People were so upset at the rate of childhood deaths that they were willing to talk to this white newspaper about the most intimate tribal details. We could have done that story more quickly if we’d been willing to use anonymous sources. It took a long time to get people on the record. So there’s an investment of time, which is money in this business, in a time of diminishing resources. Every year it’s going to get harder to do. But we did it.
Then there was the Pulitzer finalist series and follow-up stories on the government’s losing battle against the growing illicit use of methamphetamines.
That’s a perfect example. Our work there has been very much driven by our own analysis. We did not use one anonymous source — we killed ourselves, I mean killed ourselves, to build our own model of what we believed was the total Mexican domestic consumption of pseudoephedrine [which is used to make both cold medicine and meth] was in Mexico. Rather than rely on an anonymous source and calling it a day, we went and bought market research data from an international company, and when that wasn’t sufficient, we started calling all the supermarket chains and major pharmaceutical companies in Mexico, and, shockingly, one of them gave us their figures for pseudoephedrine sales in all their stores. It always takes longer if you do it that way.
One of the two stories with anonymous sources that The Oregonian ran recently was also about methamphetamine. It quoted an unidentified State Department official. Did you okay that?
Yes, I did. It was a kind of classic Washington thing. The source was acknowledging a very significant thing, but was not going to go on the record. My first desire was that we would get the spokesman to say it, but he gave a vanilla response. So I felt that we would be depriving our readers of what the State Department really thought. I kind of held my nose; I wasn’t real happy about it, but I did approve that one.
Overall, though, you see anonymity as a necessary journalistic tool.
I think that if you go back to the modern history of journalism, through Watergate, Sy Hersh’s work, and fifty other things you or I could name, without the anonymous source, we’re in deep trouble.
Russ Baker is a contributing editor to CJR.(Columbia Journalism Review)