Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Faleomavaega Video Raises More Questions than Answers
Mark Twain once said “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Faleomavaega apparently forgot that old adage about avoiding an argument with the press when he issued a news release Monday to accompany a copy of a 30-second video Christmas greeting he provided KVZK-TV during the holidays. In his statement he blasted Samoa News for not publishing earlier releases reporting on the progress in Congress of several pieces of legislation of importance to the territory.
For its part, Samoa News responded that the paper had covered those issues but did not use his releases because, among other things “there was still no reply from the Congressman’s office on previous Samoa News questions on the status of his health, why was he hospitalized in the first place, and how he is staying in contact with his office if he is in rehab.” The bylined story goes on to say “[t]hese are the same questions many residents, including voters, are raising with Samoa News and these questions have yet to be answered,” firing back: “Having his office issue a news release quoting the Congressman still does not provide answers to lingering questions on his health.”
At the same time, Radio 93KHJ-FM news director Monica Miller aired the audio of Faleomavaega’s Christmas greeting saying “The 30-second clip shows the congressman from the chest up and he looked like he lost weight. In his Samoan greeting one can detect a slight slur in Faleomavaega's speech. The brevity of his greeting is also unusual.“ In her commentary that also ran in talanei.com, Miller also noted that Faleomavaega’s “Washington D.C. office has not answered any questions about the congressman’s health and whether he is in hospital or at home.”
We long have urged both Samoa News and Radio KHJ to withhold disseminating Faleomavaega’s news releases as a means of forcing his office to be forthcoming on his health issue, which is what he clearly has tried to do with the release of his Christmas video. Originally sent down here to be aired on television, the Delegate apparently was frustrated that it only played once and was seen only by a small number of people, so he decided to send it to Samoa News and KHJ in hopes of getting wider distribution. But sending it with a combative news release, rather than complaining in a private communication with Samoa News, probably did him more harm than good.
Wrote Samoa News reporter Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu: “The video, with the message in Samoan, was released by the Congressman’s Washington D.C. office and was received by Samoa News, but didn’t provide any other details such as where the video was recorded and when; and did not address the health condition of the Congressman.” She went on to disclose that “Samoa News has sent questions to [his chief of staff] Faiivae, with a copy of the email questions to the Washington D.C. office for more details but as of yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon, there has been no reply. Faleomavaega made no mention of his health on the 30-second video,” which the paper posted at its website.
Because Faleomavaega has received such uncritical attention by the local media over his long career and has a reputation for being vindictive, we have suspected that if the media were not participating in a cover up of his health condition they were being intimidated into silence. This is clearly not the case, as we now realize the News and the radio station were withholding dissemination of most of his releases, just not telling their readers and listeners. We were misled by looking for his news releases on his website, on which he has not published any since early October nor is any information available in the "In the News" section. It also appears that he only sporadically posts on his Facebook page and does not tweet from his Twitter account at all.
Obviously his releases were being targeted just to the local media directly and we now understand that rather than participating in a conspiracy of silence, they were giving him every courtesy due him as a measure of respect for his position as is customary in our Samoan culture.
But it looks as if his response has backfired and an irritated media looks to be ready now to start to hold his feet to the fire publicly. Indeed, there already have been comments on-line to the effect that while people respect Faleomavaega for his years of service, he has disrespected the people by the way he has handled questions over his health.
In recent days there has been a spate of announcements of senior Members of Congress retiring, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who, like Faleomavaega, is a protégé of the late U.S. Rep. Phil Burton (D-CA). Burton in the 1970s rammed through the House legislation creating congressional seats for Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa (the last seat in a bill drafted by his young staffer--Eni Hunkin). Miller, as chairman of the House committee with jurisdiction over wages, is the person most responsible for making the most recent minimum wage hike applicable to American Samoa the first time. The wage hike led to the closure of one of the two tuna canneries, throwing thousands of people out of work.
Faleomavaega, of course, can stay in office as long as the voters keep electing him. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) was elected to a new term after suffering a serious stroke that left him permanently impaired and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) remains in office while continuing to rehabilitate. Nevertheless, it is difficult to comprehend why he would want to keep going. He reminds us of the character in the Terminator movie that just keeps going despite being shot up, blown to pieces and even thrown into a vat of molten metal.
This is obviously a good time for Faleomavaega to call it a day. He is 70 years old and has had a long enough government career, including his years as a Capitol Hill staff member and military service, to have a very handsome pension. His congressional health plan, which is the best in the country, would go with him into retirement and he has gone as far as he can on the House leadership ladder: in the last two years he was passed over by a freshman Chinese-American for the chairmanship of the Congressional Asia Pacific Caucus despite having served loyally for seven years as vice chairman and was passed over for the senior position on House full Committee on Foreign Affairs despite having highest seniority in his party on the committee.
Moreover, it is unlikely Democrats will regain control of the House this fall and most independent analysts believe Republicans will be able to maintain their majority until the next redistricting and reapportionment after the 2020 elections. At that time a chronically ill (by his own admission) Faleomavaega would be approaching age 80. All the while, American Samoa is losing the opportunity to let someone else build up seniority in the House and will end up even worse off than Hawaii, where every member of the delegation is new following the retirement last year of long-serving Sen. Dan Akaka (D) and the death of the Senate's most senior member: Sen. Dan Inouye (D). Too, when legislators like Johnson and Kirk are incapacitated, there are others in their delegations to pick up the slack. Faleomavaega is all we have in Congress and he does not enjoy long-standing friendships the way he did with Akaka, Inouye and the soon departing Miller to help advance his issues.
Finally, it is unlikely his doctors will permit him to resume his passion for extensive foreign travel and, since he has no real legislative record, it is difficult to understand why he would want to hang on. Had he been honest with the people from the beginning, there no doubt would have been an outpouring of sympathy for him. But by choosing to deceive everyone on the state of his health, he has lost credibility with the media and increasingly the respect of the voters.
Aside from demonstrating he is not comatose or near death, the only question Faleomavaega’s video has answered is that he is well enough to direct his staff, meaning we now know they have not been freelancing. The tactics are his, not theirs.