Saturday, December 28, 2013

Samoa News Continues to Deceive Public on Faleomavaega; credibility sinking

We had hoped our common sense prescriptions on how to handle questionable statements emanating from the office of Delegate Faleomavaega would have proved persuasive to Samoa News but apparently not, as they again have persisted in engaging in a deception about Faleomavaega’s physical condition.  As a result, the paper is losing more and more credibility with the public, but as really the only general advertising vehicle on island, they may not much care. 

Samoa News published three articles over its Friday and Saturday issues that speak to the point.  In a story about Senate passage of the Omnibus Territories bill, a piece of legislation that contains provisions authored by Faleomavaega last summer,  Samoa News, under a headline that read “Full U.S. Senate set to vote on Omnibus bill which affects territories,” the writer, identified only as “Samoa News staff,” said “After the bill passed the Senate committee Cong. Faleomavaega's office issued a statement saying the congressman would keep the people of American Samoa updated as the bill moves forward.”

What is deceptive here, of course, is that the headline leads the reader to believe the Senate just passed the bill (otherwise why would this be news?) and that the delegate was on top of the situation, even though the writer concedes that the bill passed more than a week ago.   When an on-line reader recently commented on a letter to the editor on the health issue calling the paper on its tactics, the webmaster responded “In any release run from Eni's office since his illness, Samoa News says, there is still no official word on his health and that the media release came from his office staff.” 

Clearly that is not the case here.  There is absolutely no mention of his illness.  The article says the bill will be taken up by the full Senate when it returns to session after the holidays and that Faleomavaega will keep the people updated on its progress.  If Samoa News cannot see how deceptive their article is, then there really is no hope that their integrity can be restored.

Two other articles are noticeable by their silence on Faleomavaega altogether.   A Friday story headlined “Food stamp benefits to be reduced by 13% next month” speaks for itself.  But surely Samoa News cannot have forgotten that it was Faleomavaega who introduced the program into the territory over the objections of ASG at the time.  Can this cut be restored?  What is Faleomavaega’s position on the issue?  Is he well enough to fight for restoration?  These all are questions Samoa News should be asking.

A third story appeared in today’s issue.  It is headlined “Citizenship lawsuit appeal takes on new twist” and speaks of one or more distinguished law professors who want to intervene in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs.  This case has such serious potential ramifications for the territory that Faleomavaega himself filed a friend of the court brief before he took ill.  What does this new twist mean?  Surely this again is a question that should be put to the delegate and readers should be told if he is or is not in a position to address the issue.

Issues such as these: Omnibus territories bill, Citizenship lawsuit and food stamp reductions are all in the purview of the delegate and Samoa News shirks its duty to its readers by ignoring his role or deceiving us on the state of his ability to look after our interests.

Let us be crystal clear here.  We are not seeking the removal of the delegate from office or for him to step aside early.  Nor do we need to be told specifically what is wrong with him.  However, the public needs to know how American Samoa’s issues in Washington are being addressed if he does have some lengthy illness that will keep him sidelined for any length of time.  These issues are not going to wait for his rehabilitation.

We do not blame him, especially if he is too ill to even issue any instructions to his staff.  But we do hold his office accountable and condemn Samoa News for participating in any charade.




At the request of readers who want to become followers of this blog but fear their identities will be compromised, we are hiding the list of this blog's followers so that readers should feel safe and secure in becoming a follower.  Those who remain concerned should feel free to continue to communicate with us via our e-mail address: or anonymously in the comments section that follows each post.

Because local Faleomavaega partisans are attempting to shift the focus of this blog, we have modified our statement of purpose to make clear that we are not seeking to have Faleomavaega step down or otherwise leave office before the normal end of his term.  Moreover, whatever the extent of his illness, we wish him complete and speedy recovery so that American Samoa is fully represented in Congress in the critical year ahead.

The editors

Friday, December 20, 2013

Democrat Effort to Shift Focus to Faleomavaega Fails

Aided by Samoa News, American Samoa Democratic Party Chairman Ali’imau J.R. Scanlan did what political party leaders are supposed to do: play politics and demonize the opposition whenever the occasion presents itself.  In what can only be seen as an act of desperation, he has tried to shift the focus away from a debate on the responsibility for full disclosure on Faleomavaega’s health to an attack on those who are asking the questions.   It is a technique that Faleomavaega himself has honed to perfection over his political career whenever he has been criticized.

Only, this time it didn’t work because no one has criticized his former boss.  In a December 19 letter to the editor, the delegate’s former press secretary and chief of staff accused “a few [unnamed] misguided members of a local political Party of trying to push Faleomavaega out of office.”  Of course,  Scanlan knows full well that no one has done any such thing, but he had hoped to shift the focus away from the unwillingness of the Delegate’s office to provide any details on the health of the delegate and the complicity of the local media in trying to pretend there is nothing awry.  

He also accused this blog of denigrating the widow of Faleomavaega’s late brother.  Denigrate means to unfairly attack but all we have done is to point out that Mrs. Hunkin is an editor on Samoa News and is Democratic National Committeewoman for American Samoa.   These are measures of full disclosure just as is his self-identification as Faleomavaega’s former staff member.  Had he not so stated that, we would have.  It gives context to the coverage.

Because Scanlan’s letter is just standard political rhetoric that virtually everyone has ignored (except one on-line commenter whose remarks really were more aimed at the editor’s note that followed the letter than on the letter itself), we are tempted to do the same, but this letter provides such a rich motherlode of misleading assertions and factual errors we would b e remiss not to correct them, especially so off-island readers have a better appreciation of what the public is forced to withstand down here.

Scanlan attempts to deceive and mislead

Scanlan writes that he is “disturbed [by] a blog that urges Congressman Eni Faleomavaega to step down because of the state of his health.”  Perhaps Scanlan has not read the blog because he would find that nowhere in the 10 blog posts we have published on this issue so far have we called for the Delegate to resign because of his health (or for any other reason).  From the beginning, we have called upon his office to inform the public of his condition—there has been no public statement in over a month—and have criticized the local media for not doing more to get at the story.  
While the overall purpose of our group is to see Faleomavaega be replaced in Congress, that stated purpose well precedes his current health problems.  We are quite content to see his departure occur as a result of his retirement or electoral defeat in the normal course of time, not through illness, death or removal for any cause.  Indeed, we would be pleased to see him have many years ahead of him to spend time with his family and pursue leisurely activities appropriate to any person in his eighth decade of life.  So, we are pleased to join others who have called for his speedy recovery and return to full health and to office.

Scanlan goes on to say “[t]here is no doubt in my mind that a few misguided members of a local political Party are behind this move to push Eni out of office and hoping for the Governor to appoint one of their party members to fill out the remainder of the Congressman’s term.”  There is no doubt in our minds that what Scanlan is trying to do here is to draw this unidentified party into the debate and make Faleomavaega’s health the issue, which it is not, rather than public disclosure and honesty, which is.  We cannot speak for any local political party—our group is non-partisan and consists of Democrats and independents as well as members of other parties—but we doubt anyone will fall for this absurd ploy.

He contends that the object of opponents’ efforts is to have the Governor “appoint someone to fill out the remainder of his current term until the next election.”  We did note that the Governor's assistant senior policy adviser already has announced his candidacy for the seat but we do not know his party identification.  Of course, the prospect of an appointment is ludicrous in any event and Scanlan knows it, because he was around when Faleomavaega’s predecessor, also a Democrat, resigned after being tried, convicted and imprisoned on charges stemming from the misuse of federal funds.  While there was high public speculation then, no such appointment was made because under the statute that created the seat (drafted by Faleomavaega, we might add), the governor has no power to fill vacancies.   So this is just another Scanlan smokescreen.

Next Scanlan says “The things they say about Congressman Faleomavaega are very disrespectful,” and we eagerly waited for those things to be recounted. However, he made the charge without providing any evidence, because no evidence can be found.  Instead, he highlighted a lengthy list of Faleomavaega’s accomplishments in office (which we feel certain Samoa News found no reason to limit for space considerations) and promised that “[t]o document some of the outstanding contributions this man has made to his constituents in American Samoa, the Democratic Party of American Samoa will soon be publishing a document outlining all the accomplishments of this very dedicated public servant.”

Please excuse anyone who will wonder if the list in his letter and the document to follow are meant either to launch Faleomavaega’s next campaign or maybe to serve as his political obituary if, as some believe, his party is lining up Mata'utia or some other candidate to succeed him.  Perhaps they are preparing for both contingencies. There are those who believe that Faleomavaega’s true condition is being hidden to allow his party to consolidate support around a consensus successor while keeping his opponents at bay by denying them an opportunity to launch there own campaigns without appearing to be “disrespectful.”   Who knows?  As long as his office remains silent, people will imagine all sorts of scenarios.

Samoa News Complicity

Samoa News Editor Rhonda Annesley followed Scanlan’s letter with an initialed, two-paragraph editor’s note in which she concluded “as a public figure, Congressman Faleomavaega Faua’a Eni Hunkin will always be subject to such requests for full disclosure of events in his life — in this case his health. And continued silence by his family and especially his office, will continue to fuel such ‘disrespectful’ comments.’”  Will someone please identify these disrespectful comments?

Curious she would put ‘disrespectful comments’ in quotes because that phrase appears nowhere in Scanlan’s letter nor, for that matter, does the phrase “disturbed by cheap shots at Eni,” appear in the letter either.  The latter phrase was used as the headline over the letter; normally it is the job of the copy editor to make certain that headlines are consistent with the content of the copy.  We cannot say if this is the practice of Samoa News but it must be pointed out that the copy editor is the delegate’s sister-in-law and Scanlan’s colleague as a member of the Democratic National Committee.

That Samoa News would be sympathetic to Faleomavaega comes as no surprise.  Since Annesley corrected one technical error Scanlan made in his letter, she just as easily could have corrected the factual errors we have noted above, particularly on gubernatorial appointment power.  It does not take too much of a reading of back issues of the paper to see its leftist orientation by virtue of its selection of off-island stories, opinion pieces and editorial cartoons rather than by ideologically driven editorials written by staff.

It is evident from Annesley’s comment on the Scanlan letter that “requests for full disclosure of events in his life — in this case his health” will come from others, not from Samoa News.   Since Congress has adjourned there are no expectations that Members will be doing anything that would generate stories, so Faleomavaega will have the balance of the holidays to continue his recovery without public scrutiny—so long as his office does not issue and the local media does not print or air press releases claiming that he is engaged in activities in which he is not.  Therefore his office and the local media should be off the hook.

However, early January is right around the corner and questions again will rise, particularly if his office persists in disseminating misleading press releases and Samoa News and others dutifully and unquestioningly print and air them.  If Samoa News really were dedicated to publishing the truth, they have the power to do so—and they know it.

And finally, a couple of notes to “Grandma Sala,” the only commenter on Scanlan’s letter, who wrote “I have to point out that words such as "public figure", "full disclosure", etc., are Western concepts, terminologies the Samoan phycology [sic] does not subscribe to under abnormal and dire circumstances such as this; ...a major illness befallen one of it's honored leader and elderly statesman.”  Do we have "dire circumstances" here of a "major illness?"  How do you know?  Do you have some special access to information that has eluded the media?  And, please, don’t fall back on the old dodge of “Western concepts” that don’t apply to American Samoa.  That doesn’t work any more than Ali’imau’s attempt to shift the focus.  Oh, by the way, "Grandma," I somehow missed your letter to the editor criticizing Mata'utia when he announced his candidacy for Faleomavaega's seat.  Is that not disrespectful under the circumstances or are you part of the crowd lining up Faleomavaega's successor?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hawaii Free Press Exposes Media Cover up of Faleomavaega Health

In a by-lined article in the Hawaii Free Press, HFP Editor Andrew Walden has accused major American Samoa media outlets of covering up the fact that the territory's Congressional Delegate, Eni Faleomavaega, has been sidelined from duty for the past two months. Citing stories carried by both Radio KHJ-FM and Samoa News that imply the delegate has been carrying out his duties in routine fashion, Walden says "Samoa News and Talanei [the KHJ news website] have been pretending Faleomavaega was in Washington DC doing his job by repeating phony Congressional news releases as if they were independent news stories."

Walden had particularly strong words for Radio KHJ-FM news anchor Monica Miller, accusing her of actively participating in a cover up of Faleomavaega's whereabouts while denying that was true in an interview with Radio Australia. "Miller unwittingly proved the opposite," wrote Walden. "By revealing the Delegate's current location in Utah, not Washington, DC -- Miller demonstrated that Talanei and i[t]s affiliated radio station KHJ-FM have been withholding information from their readers and listeners." Miller told Radio Australia that she understood the delegate is "convalescing in Utah at his home" but apparently had not previously aired or published that information.

Walden seemed a bit offended by Miller's assertion on Radio Australia that "the Hawaii Free Press, they call themselves investigative reporters, but they don't really do much investigating."  Judging from what Walden has written on this story, he has done quite a bit of investigative research and has unearthed some information that was unknown even to this blog, which has concentrated on this story. Had she done even a quick Google search on Walden's background, she would have found that the Daily Kos, a well known left-wing blog, describes the HFP editor as "also a columnist for FrontPage, and [who] has authored numerous exposés of corruption by Hawaii politicians, activists, and business figures." Readers interested to learn more about Walden's skills can review them in this November, 2010 post-election interview on the Peter Kay Show. The local mainstream media can feel free to continue to ignore our little blog but if they want to take on Andrew Walden, who is well connected into the national political blogosphere, they better be prepared to play in a whole different league.

That goes for anyone who the American Samoa Democratic Party might put up to defend the decision to keep up a news blackout on Faleomavaega's health. To two such efforts, Walden responded: "Samoa News elects to print a December 13 letter to the editor from Phillip Swett. A Newport, Oregon resident who identifies himself as a long-time crony of Faleomavaega, Swett implicitly threatens the life of the anonymous author of the ABCDEFG Blog--which has contributed its reporting to Swett writes: 'I am violently annoyed that some 'allegedly anonymous' site is criticizing him during his time of suffering. What low-down, self-serving, nasty person would stoop that low? Shame, shame on them and may God have no mercy on their souls.' On December 17, a former Faleomavaega staffer, Line'-Noue Memea Kruse, chimes in with her support for Swett's letter. American Samoans not connected to Faleomavaega's political machine have a different view. Tellingly, they are also a lot less likely to identify themselves."

Of course, Samoa News disingenuously ran the letters without comment (or opposing view points) knowing full well we have not criticized Faleomavaega at all but only the so-far-successful efforts of his staff and the media to keep a lid on his health situation. "Allegedly anonymous" website, Mr. Swett? Hardly. We are decidedly anonymous. Is it any wonder ABCDEF Group members prefer to shield our identities? So that the truth can be told without fear of violence or any other form of retribution.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Succession Plan Quietly Underway for Faleomavaega Seat?

Another day passes and no mention of Faleomavaega in American Samoa's mainstream media. At least there also were no new phoney stories based on news handouts from his office. It will be two months this Saturday since Delegate Faleomavaega was stricken down with some mysterious malady, rushed to the hospital, spirited off to Honolulu and recently, we have come to understand, has been moved to Utah, where remains convalescing from whatever it is that ails him.

Meanwhile, there are some points on the timeline between October 21 and today that need to be addressed. They are like dots on a puzzle. It is for readers to decide if and how the dots should be connected.
  •  A month ago on November 16, Samoa News published the very last official statement released on Faleomavaega's condition, saying he was well enough to be moved from Honolulu the ensuing week either to Utah or Washington, D.C.;
  • Two days later, on November 18, this blog was the first to raise questions about the lack of information on the delegate's condition or whereabouts; 
  • Later that week, on November 21, Samoa News wrote that the local Democratic Party chairman had written the legislature to urge introduction and passage of a bill to hold primary elections in the territory; 
  • Four days later, on November 25, Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) also carried an item about the call for primaries; 
  • Four more days later on November 29, carried a story about the local Democratic party backing Faleomavaega's position on U.S. citizenship for American Samoans; 
  • Then a mere three days after that on December 2, Samoa News ran a story about the first candidate to announce he would run for Congress next year. 
Those are the dots on the timelime. Now here are the dots on the people involved with these stories.
  • First of all, Faleomavaega is a member of the American Samoa Democratic Party (ASDP), an affiliate of the U.S. Democratic Party; 
  • The ASDP chairman is Ali'imau J.R. Scanlan, once Faleomavaega's press secretary; 
  • As party chairman, Scanlan has a seat on the Democratic National Committee (DNC);
  • American Samoa is also represented on the DNC by Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde, a former ASDP chairman and currently the director of the government's Office of Public Information (OPI), which oversees the territory's only television station, KVZK, and its news department; 
  • The OPI position is appointed by the governor and the director is a member of the cabinet;
  • The ASDP national committeewoman is Teri Hunkin, sister-in-law of Faleomavaega, and copy editor and staff writer at Samoa News;
  • Tuā’au Kereti Māta’utia, Jr., the first candidate to announce for Faleomavaega's seat, is assistant senior policy adviser to the Governor and as such reports to the senior policy adviser, Oreta Togafau, who also is past ASDP chairman; 
  • Although born in the Tutuila village of Vatia, Mata'utia was raised and completed high school in the Manu'a Island group, which is home to Governor Lolo Moliga; 
  • Samoa News correspondent Fili Sagapolutele is also described as the American Samoa correspondent for the (U.S.) Associated Press
  • Radio KHJ news director Monica Miller also is described as the regular correspondent for both Radio New Zealand, International and Radio Australia's Pacific Beat. 
To keep all the intertwining relationships straight, readers may want to clip out the bullet points above and keep them handy for reference as this story develops.

Now, although the local Democrats made their surprise call for establishment of a primary system just about the time Faleomavaega was in transit from Hawaii to who-knows-where, the change is only meant to cover gubernatorial elections. However, if the measure is considered by the legislature, there is nothing to preclude them from applying primaries to congressional runs as well. Indeed, legislation moved through Congress by Faleomavaega some years ago to help him avoid runoffs also spoke to voting contingencies should the territory adopt a primary system.

When asked by Samoa News if he had informed the governor he was running for Congress, Mata'utia said he had not but we would forgive anyone who found that statement not credible and, as far as we know, Mata'utia has not stepped down from his government position, as may be required by law. It also is not known if Mata'utia intends to seek the Democratic Party's nomination if primaries were to be adopted or seek formal endorsement if they were not. Samoa News apparently did not seek (or was unable to obtain) comment from either Togafau or Governor Lolo on Mata'utia's candidacy on the only story published on this subject, but more astonishingly, the article said not one word about Faleomavaega. Certainly nothing about his secret illness--which is par for the course--but not even a mention of his name as the current occupant of the seat.

With all the fuss made the past few days by a handful of people about Faleomavaega not being shown the proper respect in the wake of these stories about his disappearance from public view, one has to wonder where the protests were when Mata'utia made his announcement that he wanted to replace the ailing congressman. Was the timing of his announcement respectful? Can all these dots be connected in such a way to suggest an effort is underway to position a close associate of the governor as the successor to Faleomavaega and what does the hyperactivity of the usually somnolent ASDP mean?

Are the local media just too slaphappy to be able to synthesize all of these facts, dates and relationships into some sort of cogent analysis of their own or are they part of an effort to orchestrate the next election? We don't know. You decide. Meanwhile, this being a blog dedicated to seeing Faleomavaega replaced in Congress, we welcome the challenger and reopen our biennial poll of readers to tell us who you think ought to be the next delegate. For now we will leave it at Mata'utia and ex-Governor Togiola, who long has been rumored to have his eye on the seat.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Faleomavaega Cover Up Continues Despite Local Media Denials

In a December 17 interview with Radio Australia, Radio KHJ-FM news director Monica Miller said "I think maybe western media would know that or not know that the resources that we have, especially when things are happening off island or overseas that we have access to are very limited. But there was no cover-up, I am saying that with sincerity and that's the truth." In a December 12 page one story Samoa News indicated much the same thing, saying they have "asked similar questions of the Congressman’s office, however, there has been no reply."

In its headline for that story, Samoa News inaccurately said we "accused" the local media of a cover up when we did no such thing. Our headline asked if there were a coverup underway and said in the post that because local media provided so little information on his condition or whereabouts, "it could be construed that the local media is participating in a coverup." Construed means interpreted. That is not an accusation. That is a conclusion that could be drawn by readers and listeners based on the evidence available. Both Samoa News and Radio KHJ-FM deny they are involved in any cover up in Faleomavaega's condition.

This Blog is not seeking to be republished elsewhere nor even to be seen as a credible primary source for news. Our biases are well established as outlined in our statement of purpose and we do no original reporting ourselves. Mrs. Miller decries her lack of resources to do more extensive reporting off-island but we have even fewer resources than does Radio KHJ-FM, or Samoa News, the last of which is a subscriber to the Associated Press. But we do have the an ability which seems in short supply in the legitimate or mainstream local press: the ability to synthesize disparate facts and come up with an analysis.

Now that it is established that both Samoa News and Radio KHJ are aware of the questions that this blog has posed--based on the concerns voiced by their listeners and readers--and have suggested remedies, this blog must go on to say that both media organizations from here on now appear to be complicit in a cover up of Faleomavaega's condition whenever they makes inquiries about his condition and whereabouts but do not report their findings, even if they have nothing more to say than the delegate's office did not respond or refused to say. They are also complicit in a cover up if they publish or air stories concerning the delegate that are based on press handouts from his office without carrying some sort of disclaimer that they are unable to verify if Faleomavaega actually said or did what the releases claim contemporary to the release.

News comes from the word "new." If he is well enough to direct his staff to issue releases with his quotes, then, given what is known about his health, he should be well enough to have a brief conversation with reporters or even a single pool reporter to verify the veracity of the releases. To publish or air this information without such disclaimers amounts to being complicit in a cover up. To publish old photos with stories without identifying them as file photos also is misleading and just bad journalism. Our prescription is simple: Samoa News and Radio KHJ should insist on verification before publishing or airing any story that suggests Faleomavaega is conducting normal business as if he were a well man unless that were the case.

Their ability to deny coverage is powerful. It is no different than what is happening right now at the White House, which has placed restrictions on press photographers. In protest, several major newspaper groups have announced they no longer will publish official photos supplied to news organizations by the White House. In turn, the White House is now having to rethink its policy and likely will come to some sort of compromise with the photographers. If Faleomavaega's staff either by direction or on their own is making the decision to stonewall the press, they are making a horrendous blunder.

We may think the territory would do better with someone else in Congress but by no means do we want to see him sick or dead. To the contrary, we hope he retires in full health to enjoy his remaining years with his wife, children and grandchildren. He deserves that and his family deserves that. If his office would just tell the public the truth about what is going on--as Monica Miller says: "I always say that the constituents have a right to know how their leaders are doing, in good health and in ill health and I hope that things will change"--I think they would find a very sympathetic public ready to rally around him and pray for his full recovery. They are doing a grave disservice pretending things are normal if they are not--and our local media should go along with it.

Mrs. Miller, don't just hope things will change. You can do something about it. This blog will continue to monitor the local media and if they continue to cover Faleomavaega the way they have been doing it, we will continue to speak out. We may have only 16 "followers" but that is only because so many people are afraid their anonymity would be compromised and that there would be reprisals. As Samoa News acknowledged, this blog is republished by the Hawai’i Free Press online, which then distribute[s] it locally and off island. Still others redistribute the same blog write-up to their friends and relatives." The website host provides us daily with statistics on the number of people who read the blog and, although few readers make comments on each blog post (again fear), our email address provides another avenue for us to hear from them--and we do.

Saturday, December 14, 2013 Perpetuating Faleomavaega Fraud?

Following hard on the heels of a story Wednesday about the U.S. House considering Faleomavaega's proposal to study the feasibility of establishing a National Guard unit in American Samoa , the Radio KHJ-FM-run website published a follow up story yesterday that the House had approved the legislation. Both stories quoted and paraphrased the delegate and each story was accompanied by a photo of a healthy, robust looking Faleomavaega. The story was written as if the comments were made to the reporter. For example, one of the stories said "The congressman said he’s pleased that the U.S. Congress supported efforts to construct a new $20 million U.S. Army Reserve Center in American Samoa, and is hopeful that the Congress will now give serious consideration to the establishment of a National Guard unit in the Territory as he believes that it is in our national interest for the United States to increase its military presence in American Samoa." Did he really say that to the reporter? That's the way it is written. There is no qualifier such as "according to a press release" or "according to a statement issued by his office." Moreover, were the photos accompanying the stories contemporaneous to the events? There is no label such as "file photo," which is how most reputable media would qualify photos not taken in connection with the stories they accompany.

If indeed Faleomavaega made these statements to a correspondent, then by all means it is a pity the correspondent did not ask him about his miraculous full recovery from his unidentified illness, since the public is increasingly asking questions about his lengthy, apparent disappearance from public view. But if these stories are based merely on press handouts, the photos are file photos and none of it was identified as such then Radio KHJ-FM/ would be guilty of perpetuating the fraud that all is well and normal with Faleomavaega and it is business as usual.

Whether Samoa News also will continue to carry on with this seeming charade remains to be seen, but at least they had the integrity to run a story based on our questions saying they had the same questions. KHJ-FM, on the other hand, has continued to ignore these questions. It is most surprising considering the station's news director is a well-respected, professional journalist who served a number of years ago in the prestigious position of president of the Pacific Islands News Association. PINA most definitely would frown on any publication carrying on a practice that is as deceptive as using fake quotes and unrelated photos. It is just bad journalism and we would think the news director would not want questions raised about journalistic integrity that has been hard earned over a lengthy career.

We repeat what we have said before: all news outlets should refrain from publishing any stories that are no more than press handouts from the delegate's office that suggest business as usual until that office answers to the media's and the public's satisfaction the status of Faleomavaega's health:
  • What felled him here in November? Was it food poisoning, as some reported? 
  • Was it a stroke, as some--including us--have speculated? 
  • Did he nearly die at Tripler, as has been suggested? 
  • Where was he taken from Tripler and when? 
  • What kind of rehabilitation is he undergoing?
  • When is he expected to return to full duty? 
These are fundamental questions that any reputable news organization would ask before running press releases that include comments and quotes from the delegate. If Faleomavaega did give those quotes to, then needs to let the public know that all is well with him but the public still wants to know the answers to the questions about his mysterious illness. Now that Samoa News has published our speculation that the delegate has had a stroke and possibly has suffered paralysis and loss of speech, and may either now may be or was in a coma, why has the delegate's office not issued a denial? Issuing a press release stating Faleomavaega is pleased with passage of national guard legislation is no substitute.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Talanei Runs Faleomavaega "Tribute" to Mandela

The website has published Delegate Faleomavaega's "tribute" to the late Nelson Mandela but it is unclear from the wording of the story whether this tribute was delivered in the House of Representatives or just sent over for insertion into the Congressional Record. The only legitimate sources for news in American Samoa are the daily Samoa News newspaper and Radio KHJ-FM, which has a small, one-person news department. There is also a local television station that has a daily newscast but it is owned by the government and has no independence. It is a component of a department whose director is a member of the governor's cabinet so it has no credibility whatsoever.

We have written much about Samoa News but more people listen to the radio than buy the paper, so KHJ-FM is important, especially since the news director also strings for Radio New Zealand International. Much of what the rest of Polynesia knows about American Samoa comes from RNZI. KHJ-FM also operates a companion website,, which carries the stories heard on the radio. Because there are no space limitations on the internet, the website often carries expanded versions of stories that have been aired and also uses stories that don't make it on the air at all. Because we don't monitor all the radio newscasts, we have no way of knowing if KHJ mentioned Faleomavaega's tribute to Nelson Mandela on the radio but the story was on on December 9 under the headline "Congressman pays tribute to Mandela."

Starting "Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin has paid tribute to former president and anti-apartheid leader of South Africa Nelson Mandela," the story goes on to quote Faleomavaega liberally and then concludes by saying "Faleomavaega's remarks were entered into the Congressional Record for historical purposes." The statement raises a number of questions:
  • What exactly does that last sentence mean? 
  •  Did Faleomavaega go to the House chamber, make his remarks from the lectern then ask that they be inserted in the Record for historical purposes or was this statement just sent over to the Clerk for insertion without having ever been uttered at all? 
  • Was this all just for show so that a press release could be issued in hopes the local media dutifully would carry it without asking any questions? 
  • Did ask any of these questions of the delegate's office? 
  • If not, are KHJ-FM and being complicit in a possible cover up of Faleomavaega's physical health condition?

We will give KHJ-FM and the same advice we have given Samoa News: seek verification of anything disseminated in Faleomavaega's name. If they will not let you interview or at least speak to him briefly on the matter in question, simply refuse to publish or broadcast it or do so with the caveat that you cannot verify the authenticity of the document and explain why not.

Congress is going into recess, so Faleomavaega will not be expected to be in Washington for any official duties for the next few weeks. So no one will need to cover for him. January is another matter.  Ask some basic questions:
  • Will he be here for the opening of the Fono, as is customary? 
  • Will the media ask Fono leaders if they will extend to him an invitation to address a joint session, as they have done in the past? 
  • Will he be participating in any fact-finding missions to Asia or elsewhere in January, as he has done so often in the past? 
  • Will he be attending President Obama's State-of-the-Union address?
  • There also is major budget legislation that must be enacted by mid-January. Will Faleomavaega be able to advocate American Samoa's interests in the deliberations? 
These are all relevant questions that are on the minds of the people and the media should be asking them or readers' and listeners' behalf. January is also the start of an election year. Will Faleomavaega seek re-election? When Eni was down here running his first campaign for Congress 34 years ago, a congresswoman from Maryland had a stroke and was in a coma on election day but still won with 80% of the vote and was seated in absentia the following year. Unless he is in some sort of vegetative state himself, Eni likely recalls that precedent and surely his staff does. So is it possible they will go to elaborate lengths to keep the truth about his health from the public in hopes they can replicate Spellman's victory? Sadly she never regained consciousness and the House eventually was forced to declare her seat vacant but she remained in a coma for another eight years before dying.

Maybe the staff fear that he will be forced to resign and lose his congressional health care benefits (and they their jobs). The Samoan people are a compassionate people and would never demand that he do that. All we want to do is to know the truth. We suspect that neither RNZI nor AP, whose stringer is on Samoa News staff, would be happy to discover that the "news" they were being fed from the island was based on government hand outs rather than old fashioned original reporting.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Samoa News finally raises questions about Faleomavaega

Samoa News deserves credit for publishing a story in today's paper about the virtual disappearance of our delegate to Congress and pointing out that our local media has done little to find out what is the true story behind his physical condition. In the absence of any media coverage, the public has had no choice but to speculate. There are rumors going around about him having had a stroke, being in a coma, losing his ability to speak, being paralyzed and all the rest. It is a logical follow on since he has publicly admitted to having had knee, heart and eye surgery as well as being diabetic and having other ailments. It is puzzling why his office has chosen to keep the lid on the news, which only heightens the speculation, rather than go public and let the chips fall where they may.

Just as ASG has to account for federal funds it spends, Faleomavaega is a federal public servant and must account for his time. We all are familiar with defendants who have tried to hide behind "Samoan custom" in a federal court of law. None has been successful. Similarly, it may be Samoan custom to respect an ill person's privacy but not when he is an elected federal official. Samoa News says it has repeatedly asked Faleomavaega's office for information on the Delegate's condition but has been ignored. If that is the case, then they need to periodically inform readers of that fact, because they are as guilty as the Delegate's office if they remain silent. The public wants to know and it is the media's job to find out the answers.

We are well aware that the paper has staff limitations but they do subscribe to AP and it seems to us they could task the Honolulu and Washington bureaus to do a little digging. After all, Faleomavaega is a senior member of Congress and the Ranking Democrat on a Foreign Affairs subcommittee, so this is a story that AP might want to cover anyway for its broader news value. It is simply not enough to say they aren't printing anything because the Delegate's office isn't giving them any information. In essence, they are admitting they practice handout journalism, waiting for the Delegate to give them the "official word." If they are doing that for Faleomavaega, might they also be doing that for the Fono and/or the Governor, or is the Delegate a special case? And if he is a special case, does that have anything to do with his sister-in-law being on Samoa News staff while serving as a national Democratic Party official.  Faleomavaega is the highest ranking elected Democrat in American Samoa and both he and his sister-in-law vote at Democratic National Conventions. It all goes to preserving the newspaper's credibility.

In the absence of pressing to get information and regularly reporting to readers, Samoa News surely must see why some people might connect all the dots and conclude there might be a cover up going on. After all, no legitimate newspaper in the country would employ a member of the Democratic or Republican Party, even as a janitor, without readers wondering if the political coverage weren't being influenced. There might not be a conflict of interest but there sure is the appearance of one. Especially so in a small operation like Samoa News where everyone wears multiple hats. She may be "copy" editor, but we have seen her byline on news stories, too.

Samoa News writes that the ABCDEFG blog alleges that this “suggests that Faleomavaega’s health situation is a lot more serious than his office has acknowledged and from here it could be construed that the local media is participating in a coverup." We are not alleging that, we are asserting it. We are not arguing that Mrs. Hunkin be fired but any time a political story is written involving Faleomavaega, they ought to run a disclaimer. And as far as how to press Faleomavaega's office to give up more information, they need to remember he needs them more than they need him. Next time his office hands out the text of some meaningless cocktail party remarks before some group not even related to American Samoa, or a press release on some issue of no concern to us such as the name of an NFL football team or some meeting with a dictator in Central Asia, just tell his office you won't print these things any more until they come clean on state of Faleomavaega's health and tell your readers that is what you are doing. Surely there has to be a healthy degree of skepticism about just taking the word of the Delegate's office on any of this.

At one point according to Samoa News's own reporting, the office said it was not a life threatening situation. But later a staff member was quoted in the media as saying they almost lost him. If it's a matter of both statements being true because his condition deteriorated between one utterance and the other, shouldn't the public through media have been advised with periodic updates? Finally, Samoa News says "[t]here has long been speculation at Samoa News as to who is the author of the blog and why they choose to remain anonymous since most news organizations usually don’t give credence to sources who won’t reveal themselves. (A notable exception was ‘Deep Throat’ and The Washington Post.)" We don't publish our names for the same reason Samoa News grants anonymity to writers of letters to the editor. It's a small community and people fear retribution. And frankly, it is probably why Samoa News does not go after this very legitimate story: fear.

Samoa News should feel free to publish or ignore anything we write. We are not asserting new facts or looking to be published. As a matter of fact, we do not do any original reporting. We ask questions based on stories published by others, whether it be some foreign trips of questionable value or something sneaky he has tried to do. We don't look at ourselves as being a news source. We just point readers in the direction of sources and they can make judgments for themselves. Our sources are basically the same sources Samoa News itself could easily access: news stories on the Internet.

When Faleomavaega announces he is in Asia "on assignment," for example, does anyone ask him who made the assignment and what the assignment is? No, they just take the handout and print it. We are only raising questions that we believe the local media themselves should be asking. As for using anonymous sources, papers do that every day by citing information from "a high government official" or "a person familiar with the situation" or other similar devices. As for Deep Throat, just imagine if The Washington Post had simply waited for handouts from the White House: Richard Nixon would have finished his second term.

Indeed, Watergate changed the face of journalism. This is not 1920, when Woodrow Wilson's wife could hide her husband's incapacitating stroke for 18 months. This is not 1945, when the White House succeeded in having the press conceal Franklin Roosevelt's wheelchair confinement for the entire 13 years of his presidency. This is not 1962, when the press practiced self-restraint and did not write about the rumors that John Kennedy was running women in and out of the White House. This is 2013 and the public demands more from the press. It is a public trust, no less so for Samoa News than The Washington Post.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Faleomavaega a No-Show Again

The House Asia-Pacific subcommittee today held a session to adopt two resolutions on China and Burma to send the full Foreign Affairs Committee for consideration and the panel's most senior Democrat, American Samoa Delegate Eni Faleomavaega was absent. Watching the live telecast by computer, it also was curious that when the subcommittee chairman concluded his opening remarks, he turned to the Ranking Member (most senior member of the Minority) for remarks, as is customary. But when he said "Ranking Member" it was California Congressman Ami Bera who took to the microphone. Bera thanked Chairman Chabot and Mr. Faleomavaega (who he did not call Ranking Member) and gave his remarks without any further reference to the Samoan delegate. Later in the session, Democrat Brad Sherman also made reference to Bera as Ranking Member. It is unclear to us that if the actual Ranking Member is absent if the next most senior Democrat takes on the title for the hearing or if some sort of internal displacement of Faleomavaega is taking place. No reasons were given for his absence and he is still listed on the Committee's website as Ranking Member of the subcommittee.

If Samoa News could devote space in their paper for the text of remarks Faleomavaega did not even deliver to some cocktail reception for an American Indian organization that has no relevance to American Samoa, then one would hope Samoa News or other news organizations would take some time to find out what has happened to Faleomavaega. A simple request to the AP Washington bureau to ask the subcommittee about Faleomavaega's absence might suffice. Maybe no one cares. Checking the on-line version of the story this week about no one knowing what has happened to Faleomavaega, not a single reader had any comment. And so it goes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Faleomavaega a "no show" at NCAI event; Remarks delivered for him

In the states, there is a phrase journalists use called "burying your lead." Sometimes it is done intentionally, sometimes inadvertently. It is when a story is published but the real news is not in the headline or first paragraph but deeper into the story. Yesterday, Samoa News ran a story about Faleomavaega being invited to deliver opening remarks at some Native American event. It is not the sort of story that would be carried anywhere else because there probably are a 100 or more members of Congress giving opening remarks at receptions all around Washington on any given evening. The real story, which should have been in the opening paragraphs, is that someone else delivered Faleomavaega's remarks on his behalf. The headline should have been something like "Delegate is no-show at Native American event" with a subhead something like "Whereabouts and condition of health still unknown."

To its credit, Samoa News, while headlining the story "Faleomavaega invited by the NCAI to offer opening remarks at Capitol Hill event" did have a subhead that said "No official word of status of our Congressman's health since 2nd week of November." But readers had to proceed to the fourth paragraph to find out someone else delivered his remarks. Then Samoa News wrote "To date, there has been no additional public information on the status of our Congressman’s health, since the second week of November 2013. Samoa News has sent inquiries to his office, but to date — no response."

The story goes on to say "Currently, we have no confirmation of where Faleomavaega is recuperating since his sudden ‘undisclosed’ illness on Oct. 21 on his way to Pago Pago to attend the Governor’s territorial Education Summit. The last the public heard was from Faiivae Alex Godinet, his chief of staff for the local office, who noted at the time (second week of November): 'He will be moved from Tripler next week, and will return to either Utah or Washington DC, as he undergoes further rehab,' he said. At the time, Faiivae emphasized that the Congressman’s office would remain fully operational and continue to function under the guidance of Faleomavaega."

Then the paper reprinted the text of the remarks Faleomavaega did not deliver (and may not even have prepared). Who cares what he might have said at an Indian reception, whether he delivered his remarks in person or not? It has no relevance to American Samoa but his health does. We suppose Samoa News could argue that since the story of Faleomavaega's health had not advanced, there is no real news. But it seems to us that the fact that no one publicly knows where Faleomavaega is or what his condition is, is important news, especially since Congress is working feverishly to pass a budget deal this week before recessing for the holidays.

If Samoa News has been asking the delegate's office for information on Eni's condition but is getting no answers, that is news! The public needs to know that the delegate's office is keeping the lid on this story. If there were any time American Samoa needed its delegate in place, the final days of a session is the time. We have no idea whether our raising this issue has prompted Samoa News to address it, even if secondarily, but we will continue to insist that the local media demand answers from the delegate's office and regularly let the public know if they are being stonewalled. Otherwise, they are being complicit in the news blackout and that is not a place they should want to be. Surely, as paid members of the Associated Press, they have the right to ask the AP Honolulu bureau to follow up with Tripler to see if he is still there, ask questions until they find out where he is, and report what is wrong with him.

Maybe he is well again. There is always that possibility. We have no way of knowing but if he were, one would think his office would say so. We will be watching via internet to see if he shows up at his subcommittee session tomorrow. And Samoa News, if you are reading this, maybe you should ask the AP Washington bureau to ask where he is if he does not show up. If not, we expect you to be watching the hearing as well and tell your readers if he was there or not. We're just saying . . .

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Faleomavaega back in action?

On Thursday, December 5, A group of 27 Members of Congress, mostly members of the radical leftist Congressional Progressive Caucus, jointly sent a letter to President Obama asking him to halt deportations. The letter, largely lost in other news emanating from Washington, grabbed our attention because one of the signers was American Samoa Del. Eni Faleomavaega. A day earlier, a high level State Department official opened his testimony before the House Asia Pacific Subcommittee by addressing "Chairman Chabot, Ranking Member Faleomavaega, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee." So maybe he is back on the job in Washington. That certainly would be welcome news for American Samoa since there are critical budget issues that will be addressed next week and in mid-January. But shouldn't our local media being telling us Faleomavaega's status? Except for a smattering of stories about his sudden illness in November, evacuation from the island and arrival at Tripler Hospital in Honolulu, there has been a virtual blackout of news coverage except one vague statement out of his office saying he was to be moved from Tripler to the Mainland for rehabilitation (not recuperation or convalescence). Rehabilitation suggests stroke and indeed there have been rumors to that effect running rife on the island. It has been rumored that he was in a coma when he was evacuated and remained in one for some time at Tripler, which is why he could not be moved. It also has been rumored that the stroke left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Unless I missed it, none of our papers or radio stations has even confirmed that Faleomavaega was moved or where he was moved. Presumably, if he signed the letter and attended a hearing last week, he was moved to Washington. But shouldn't his office say so and shouldn't the media report it? Since the stories out of Washington (none played here) seem to indicate all is fine, he apparently has made a remarkable recovery with great speed. Of course, his office said he was expected to make a full recovery, even though they did not indicate what he was suffering from or how long his recovery would take. Since his subcommittee is considering two important pieces of legislation regarding China and Burma next week, perhaps our local reporters can at least confirm that he will be participating in the session to vote on the bills--since he is the Ranking Member and does have a vote. The fact that a challenger already has announced he intends to run for Congress is another indication that Eni may have recovered since the timing of such an announcement would not be welcome down here in a culture that treats serious illness with great deference. So perhaps this candidate for the seat has been advised of Eni's condition even if the rest of us are being kept in the dark. In carrying the announcement, none of the media made any reference to Eni's illness at all. If all is, indeed, well, you wouldn't know it from his website, though. The latest news release he has posted is an attack on the local Republican party dated October 8 and the section entitled "In The News," is totally blank. At least his latest release is newer than his website photograph, which is at least 20 years old. There is nothing posted on his Facebook page later than announcement of an appearance he was to make in September. On Twitter, there simply are no tweets at all, old or new. In any event, the Foreign Affairs subcommittee streams the subcommittee meetings live and since next Wednesday's session is scheduled for 3 p.m., it will be a reasonable 9 a.m. down here, not the middle of the night. We will be watching to see if Faleomavaega takes his seat next to the chairman if we can find a decent enough internet connection down here to play the streaming.