Trummel & strife

Paul Trummel - © Paul Clements
photo © Paul Clements

The LFB fringe meeting on Freedom Of The Press Online at 2003's Annual Delegates' Meeting drew a decent crowd - more than 20 was good when last-minute scheduling put it up against a discussion on the Iraq war. Speakers were Chris Frost, chair of the union's Ethics Council, Granville Williams, from the Campaign For Press And Broadcasting Freedom, and LFB's own Paul Trummel. Now 69, Trummel was jailed last year for 111 days in Seattle for contempt of court because he refused to self-censor reports investigating the conduct of a retirement community which he had published on his own website. This is the text of his opening address:

Wives of a senior superior court judge and a bankruptcy lawyer, co-presidents of Council House, Seattle, Washington, (a taxpayer financially-assisted apartment block for senior citizens) allegedly abused residents and misappropriated federal government funds. Veteran NUJ member and investigative reporter Paul Trummel reported the abuse and fraud both to US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and in articles published on his web site.

He wrote how Council House managers had incarcerated senior citizens without trial and constructively imprisoned others in their apartments for not conforming to neo-fascist ideology and zero-tolerance policies. They used fear to coerce residents into conforming with their ideology.

The senior judge and husband formed an ex parte (backstage) consort with the junior trial judge of only four months tenure who sat in the same courthouse. The bankruptcy lawyer, husband of the other co-president, verified the reporter's credentials with NUJ, without declaring his interest as an attorney, then knowingly supported his wife in malfeasance and denial of those credentials.

The trial judge called Trummel, who has published for almost sixty years, a bogus journalist because he worked freelance and did not receive a regular salary from a publisher. He then denied him any journalism rights let alone a fair trial.

The judge took draconian measures against Trummel for exposing alleged fraud by his fellow judge's wife. He first constructively evicted him from his apartment by denying him a continuance for his attorney to attend a hearing. This stopped Trummel using his computer and denied him access to his notes and records. Then the judge had him placed in solitary confinement without a hearing and denied him legal representation.

Trummel has lived in jail and in cheap motels for more than two years. Both judges demonstrated the futility and injustice of the way the Washington judicial system functions. A British subject and retired professor, Trummel has a web site in Holland administered from London. The trial judge claimed jurisdiction and jailed him for 111 days (25 days in solitary confinement locked down 23 hours a day among murderers and rapists). Jail authorities denied adequate medical care and medication causing his health to deteriorate.

Trummel has now won a unanimous WA supreme court decision (five judges) that has forced the appellate court to hear the case. The judges previously thwarted that appeal in a variety of ways for more than two years.

Several professional organizations have now joined in the appeal because abuse of judicial power affects all journalists internationally. The case has now become a fight for the right to publish and a civil rights issue relating to unlawful imprisonment, freedom of expression, and right of assembly.

NUJ London Freelance Branch has consistently supported Trummel's efforts with time and money and the International Federation Of Journalists will shortly file suit in support of the appeal.

Both judges trampled upon journalists' first amendment rights by arbitrarily trying to censor articles on a web site. They predetermined guilt in order to support their political point of view. The trial judge wrote his findings prior to a hearing, then fined and later jailed the reporter. All without due process of law.

The judge used an anti-harassment law that specifically excludes constitutionally protected speech to prevent him from contacting his sources. Later, he fined and incarcerated Trummel on trumped-up claims that he had violated the order and again denied him representation.

Looseness in definition exacerbates problems and gives judges power to stipulate definitions. Both the judge, and Humpty Dumpty in Alice through the Looking Glass, have said: "Words mean precisely what I want them to mean."

Online journalism does not mean republishing printed material on the web. That is electronic archiving in the same way that similar material was microfilmed in the past. Online journalism requires a whole new rhetorical approach to communication that brings with it hazards for journalists.

Like any new communication medium, someone will want to control it either politically or economically. Joseph Goebbels recognized the potential of new media for exploitation when he used radio exclusively for propaganda during 1930s. This automatically impacted upon freedom of expression.

Some journalists bring disrepute upon themselves. Political silence proponents coerce them not to think. This non-thinking mentality prevents them from reporting the truth about totalitarian dictates and dogma. As a group they accept a status quo.

If journalists dogmatically agree on an issue then the consensus probably does not have intellectual validity - erroneously called balanced reporting. Coordinated implications do not lead to correct conclusions. They ignore individual analyses that may create difference. Accepting the lowest common denominator on any issue sets the intellectual standard at the lowest level. Coerced unanimity inhibits expression of different viewpoints. Consequently, political silence stifles that knowledge in favor of ideology and absolute power.

To prevent similar unethical behavior by judges, writers need to carefully define online journalism otherwise it leaves judges free to form their own interpretation. Instead of using existing law to support freedom of the press, elected judges promulgate new legal precedents using laws that do not apply which restricts dissemination to suit political agendas.

The term "ethics" describes ideal individual and organizational behavior while law defines the minimum practical standards permitted by an ethical society. Ethics do not equate with morals but more with professional standards and law. One expects higher ethical standards from judges than the lowest common denominator that legal dialectic provides. Unethical behavior by them classifies as judicial misconduct despite the disparity between ethical constraints and legal rules.

A recent NY ruling gave online journalists the same privileges as print journalists. However, judges still argue that they have jurisdiction over the Internet worldwide. They frequently use anti-harassment laws designed for domestic disputes to censor or place a prior restraint upon journalists to suit their own political agendas. They use laws that do not apply then unlawfully incarcerate dissidents.

Fifty years ago, NUJ member George Orwell responded "so is the jungle" to the assertion that technology was neutral. An online communication jungle now leaves writers everywhere vulnerable to all sorts of abuse that includes imprisonment for the expression of ideas and opinion - constitutionally protected speech.

Last modified: 01 May 2003 - © 2003 contributors
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