Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Tennessean Exposes Lies of two U.S. Attorneys re: Orchestrated Media Campaign

We previously reported here on what clearly appeared to be a DOJ orchestrated media campaign in which U.S. Attorneys were asked to place in their local newspapers as opinion articles or letters material that came from DOJ. All the articles or letters seemed too much alike. It now appears one newspaper, The Tennessean, has finally caught on and exposed it. And it is too good not to copy completely, so here it goes:

Opinion piece came from local office, attorney contends, by Rob Johnson, Staff Writer

The region's top federal prosecutor contends that while his recently published opinion piece in The Tennessean borrowed some passages from U.S. Department of Justice materials, the work was indeed the product of the Middle Tennessee U.S. Attorney's Office in Nashville.

If so, then some of U.S. Attorney Jim Vines' colleagues across the country must have thought mighty highly of his writing: It features whole passages echoed by other U.S. attorneys in opinion pieces in their hometown papers.

Vines' Aug. 3 guest editorial in The Tennessean defended the federal government's use of mandatory minimum sentences that were established to ensure tough prison terms for heinous crimes. The American Bar Association recently has taken a position that the mandatory minimums are overly harsh and ensnare defendants whose crimes don't warrant the long sentences that are imposed.

Sandy Mattice, the U.S. attorney for Tennessee's Eastern District, submitted an Aug. 11 article to The Chattanooga Times-Free Press that was nearly identical to Vine's Tennessean offering. Another article published in a Guam newspaper by a federal prosecutor there also featured many of the same passages, phrasing and transitions.

Was this an example of ''AstroTurfing,'' in which supposed independent grass-roots political expressions aren't really grass-roots products after all? Was Vines instructed to submit a Department of Justice work as his own?

''Absolutely not,'' Vines said. While he concedes that he borrowed some written materials supplied by the U.S. Department of Justice, he said that he wrote it with the assistance of another person in his Nashville office. ''It wasn't an off-the-shelf kind of thing.''

It is about an issue, he said, that he finds particularly resonant, so he said he elected to pen a piece for submission to The Tennessean.

Mattice said yesterday that he, like Vines, had been working from a similar set of Department of Justice statistics, talking points and documents when they wrote their editorials -- and that it should not be surprising that their works so closely resemble one another's.

''I'm a little surprised by the reaction to this,'' he said, adding that he is a representative of the U.S. Department of Justice, so it's natural that his point of view on mandatory minimums would reflect the department's.

Jack King, a spokesman at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, says his group strongly opposes the mandatory minimums. His organization has been informally tracking the current editorials from U.S. attorneys that have been popping up in newspapers in the mandatory-minimum debate.

''It's a sign of desperation,'' King said of the practice. ''It is also a sign of naiveté. These days, with Lexis/Nexis and even the Web, you can't get away with it anymore. People are going to figure it out.''

Vines and Mattice shrug it off.

''I really believe it's an important issue,'' said Vines of the views espoused in his guest editorial. ''I've even heard that my piece got circulated around by e-mail to some of the other offices.''

Now, of course, we all believe these two "upright" U.S. Attorneys. Why would they lie? Hmm! Or maybe they are no different than some of the people they accuse of false statements. As I said, DOJ gets worse all the time. Have they no shame?