Broadcasting board decides Voice of America can peruse WikiLeak documents

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Some new members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors were most upset by a column item last Wednesday noting that the IT and security folks at the International Broadcasting Bureau had instructed Voice of America employees to not read or e-mail any of the WikiLeaks material on their government computers (bit of a blow to original reporting).

The matter was added to the agenda at Friday's gathering of the new board, which passed a unanimous resolution in closed session that "authorized the Director of the Voice of America to proceed with reporting on the disclosure of classified documents available on the WikiLeaks website in a manner that is consistent with the VOA Charter and the BBG's statutory mission, and to balance this effort with due consideration for the laws and executive orders" on using classified information.

We got a copy of the resolution Monday, but apparently it didn't filter down to the VOA newsroom. And while the resolution appeared to clarify things in a way that would have pleased Edward R. Murrow -- asserting that reporters and editors, not IT and security folks, are the ones in charge of coverage decisions -- the long-standing, inherent tensions surrounding government employees working as independent reporters remained. So we asked for clarification on whether reporters were free to read the infamous documents on their computers.

We got this from a spokesman: "Similar to other news organizations, the decisions about how to report on the leaked material are left to the VOA reporters and editors. VOA has an important role to play providing balanced reporting to its worldwide weekly audience of 125 million people across radio, TV, Internet and new media."

So we tried again. What the board was saying, member Michael Meehan explained Tuesday, was that VOA press folks "have a journalistic responsibility to report on" the leak story and shouldn't have to cite The Washington Post or other papers as the basis for their information. "Highest journalistic standards means you've got to be able to look at a legitimate news story," he added, which in this case meant look at the actual material.

But we hear that, as of Tuesday, the newsroom was still looking for a clear green light.

The judicial waiting game

If you've been posing in your new robes in front of the mirror each morning, waiting for the Senate to confirm your nomination to the federal bench, you might want to put the plastic covers back on and hang them back up.

The odds are that, when the Senate slithers out of town Friday for its five-week recess, you'll still be working those slip-and-fall cases. There are 21 nominees (not counting high court pick Elena Kagan) on the floor, including seven for appeals court seats. The chances that any of those seven will be confirmed range from infinitesimal to none.

As for the 14 district court nominees, if there were any GOP votes against you in the Senate Judiciary Committee, you're going nowhere. If, however, you were unanimously approved in committee and you have a Republican home-state senator working for you, you have a shot in the last-minute dealmaking before the Senate takes off. But few, if any, will get through.

Okay, so if you don't make it this week, then maybe when the Senate gets back for a short session in September?

Perhaps. The D's and R's have yet to begin negotiations on which, if any, nominations would have to be returned to the White House during the recess if nominees are not confirmed. If yours is returned, that's bad news, because the papers would have to go back up and there could be some delays, which could dash your hopes during an already brief session.

If there's no agreement, the Dems, to help your chances, could possibly do that "pro forma session" sleight-of-hand where they don't officially go on recess because one Democratic senator from Virginia or Maryland cruises in every few days to take the gavel, declare the Senate in session and then close things up. We're told that it's "too early to speculate about that," so we won't speculate.

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