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 . . .

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