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?