Selective Reporting

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It’s hypocritical and telling that The Oklahoman isn’t demanding the release of the divorce trial records of billionaire energy tycoon Harold Hamm, the chief executive officer of Oklahoma City’s Continental Resources.

As you will recall, The Oklahoman several months ago launched a full-fledged legal and political attack on Oklahoma City former mayoral candidate and current Ward 2 Councilor Ed Shadid to get him to release his old divorce records. He eventually capitulated after the newspaper hounded him relentlessly in an act of obvious support for Shadid’s opponent Mick Cornett in the mayoral election. The records essentially revealed information about Shadid’s long ago drug use that he had already discussed publicly. The newspaper then sensationalized the information in order to sway the election in Cornett’s favor.

The Reuters news agency—not The Oklahoman—has filed a motion to unseal the Oklahoma County divorce trial records of Hamm, 68, pictured right, and Sue Ann Hamm, 58. The trial recently ended. Oklahoma County Special Judge Howard Haralson earlier sealed most of the trial records, according to media reports, in a supposed effort to protect the business interests of Continental Resources, an energy company with a major stake in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation.

Let’s be clear: Hamm controls a large and important publicly held energy company. The dividing of assets in his divorce could potentially have a deep impact on the Oklahoma economy. He has also served as a top energy advisor for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He has lobbied openly for tax breaks for oil and gas companies on a state and national level. He is every bit as much of a public figure as Shadid.

For the record, I was opposed to the unsealing of Shadid’s divorce records because I sincerely believed they only contained older salacious personal accusations that have since been retracted. I was correct on the content of the records. I believe in open government records and overall government transparency, but The Oklahoman crusade against Shadid was unethical and unfair. The fact the newspaper won’t demand the release of Hamm’s divorce records as well proves this point further.

According to a Reuters spokesperson:

Continental Resources is one of the most important publicly traded companies in the U.S. oil industry.

The public has a right to know how its chief executive officer explains his role in the company's growth over the past two decades and whether, as a result of the Hamms' divorce, there may be a change in the shareholding structure of the company.

Sue Ann Hamm, an attorney, has worked at Continental. She and Hamm married in 1988. Hamm’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion, according to the Reuters’ motion, which makes him one of the richest people on the planet. It’s obvious that the division of assets in the divorce could affect the company and the local and state economy. The divorce, then, has important public implications. So where’s The Oklahoman?

The Oklahoman, it should be noted, is owned by yet another billionaire energy tycoon, Philip Anschutz.

To its credit, FOI Oklahoma, a state journalist group dedicated to the concept of freedom of information, has applauded Reuters’ action. The organization also supported The Oklahoman in its quest to unseal Shadid’s divorce records. A post on the FOI Oklahoma web site proclaims, “Kudos to Reuters for fighting to protect our right to public trials. Shame on Oklahoma’s news media for not doing so.”

Shame on The Oklahoman, in particular, for its latest act of blatant hypocrisy.

A Poetic Victory For Equality

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I don’t know how much I can add to the celebration over the incredible and wonderful development that same-sex marriage is not only now legal in Oklahoma but also has already happened and will continue to do so.

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of lower court rulings that argued state bans of same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. By refusing to hear the appeals, the court implicitly endorsed the lower court rulings. This means same-sex marriage is now immediately legal in five more states, including Oklahoma, and should soon be legal in six other states.

Meanwhile, a judicial panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the ban of same-sex marriage in Nevada and Idaho, a ruling which could also lead to same-sex marriage in three other states under its auspices. In all, same-sex marriage is legal or should be soon legal in 35 states, though some conservative states will surely try to fight its implementation.

I think it’s poetic that same-sex marriage is now legal in a state that produces political leaders such as state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, who once made national news when she said homosexuality was “the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam.” Remember this claim by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on the Senate floor in 2006: “I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.” I could go on and on.

I also vividly remember the sense of deflation I felt—and others felt this, too—after the 2004 election when Oklahomans voted overwhelming to approve State Question 711, which defined marriage as a union limited to a man and a woman. The vote count was 1,075,216 to 347,303, or approximately 75 to 25 percent. It was downright depressing, but I think it also helped to activate people in the fight for equality, including myself as a local political writer.

So here are three takes on this momentous and historical development.

(1) The push for equality here on the local level over the last three or so decades has been a blend of people fighting openly for justice and a growing cultural tolerance and acceptance. I wonder, for example, if SQ 711 would still be passed by such an overwhelming margin. I do know that many people, some who are now deceased, spoke out for equality at a time when it was extremely risky to do so. Lobbyist Keith Smith, who died in 2006, comes to mind, but there were many others. My point is that growing tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community here has been a dialectical process between countless numbers of people through many years. Those people include civil rights activists but also people who lent their support in less visible ways.

(2) Gov. Mary Fallin’s clichéd reaction to the news was typical and political. After all, she’s running for reelection in a gubernatorial race that has become closer than most imagined a year ago, and she’s pandering to the conservative base. She said, “The will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one. That is both undemocratic and a violation of states’ rights.” But that ignores the U.S Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which contains the equal protection clause. States must offer legal protection to ALL of its residents. It’s the law. SQ 711 was only a short-lived visceral thrill for conservatives and the right-wing religious folks. It was easy to see that in 2004, too.

(3) The right-wing religious folks weighed in with their disappointment, clinging to the tired arguments about the sanctity of marriage and what their vision of a God intended in this universe. They are certainly entitled to do so, and they can also deny same-sex couples the right to marry in their churches. That’s a crucial point. The Supreme Court decision doesn’t force churches in any form or manner to marry same-sex couples. The decision deals with civil marriage and its legal aspects. The right-wing religious folks here will always want to dictate civil law based on their belief system. They want to force people to live under their world views by law, not by choice. Their religion demands this of them. The court’s decision is a tremendous victory for the LGBT community, but it’s also a victory for people who believe in the separation of church and state.

The fight for equality is far from over. Discrimination against the LGBT community continues here and elsewhere. It’s time to uncork the champagne, but, alas, there’s more work to be done, especially in a state like Oklahoma.

Sarcasm Not Science

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The Oklahoman editorial page continues to describe the growing environmental movement in this country with self-righteous, smirky sarcasm while ignoring the scientific basis for claims about the threats of climate change and fracking.

This means The Oklahoman puts forth arguments like this about the recent People’s Climate Marches across the country on Sept. 21: “. . . marchers aren’t just useful idiots for the millionaires fighting for a cleaner environment from the comfort of their private jets but simplistic as well . . . ” or “ . . .some of the highest-profile participants in the march — movie stars and politicians — claim we’re destroying the planet but notably refuse to give up their private jets, multiple cars and giant houses.”

Note the fixation with the upper class and private jets. Isn’t The Oklahoman, and I say this with absolutely no sarcasm intended, the mouthpiece for the rich? The quotes I used in the above paragraph came from smaller editorial briefs under the newspaper’s Scissor Tales series. These editorials mock and stereotype. What they don’t do is focus on scientific claims about global warming and the damage done to our planet by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process.

The newspaper’s main counter argument to the 400,000 people who marched in New York, and the thousands more who marched in other cities, including Oklahoma City, seems to be this: People who fly around in private jets shouldn’t be able to speak up against the threat of global warming. That’s nonsensical on two levels. First, the vast majority of people who marched on Sept. 21 don’t fly around in private jets. Second, such reductionist arguments—even if you agree with the accusation of hypocrisy—only try to shift attention away from scientific claims.

The internet and our public libraries abound with credible scientific information about the reality of global warming and the environmental dangers of fracking, which include water contamination and earthquakes. Instead of digging through this information and responding to it, the newspaper’s editorial writers deploy sarcastic ad hominem attacks against people through stereotyping and mocking. This, then, is presented as “argumentation” in the wider culture in Oklahoma. That’s a shame.

One of the latest claims emerging from new studies is that trying to reduce our carbon imprint through a carbon tax and developing cleaner renewable energy sources would actually create more jobs and help the world economy. Don’t expect The Oklahoman to weigh in on this issue, in particular, with anything but sarcasm.

Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, of course, is famous for denying manmade global warming while arguing that a carbon tax or cap-and-trade for certain industries would eliminate millions of jobs. If Republicans take over the Senate, Inhofe, who is expected to win reelection, could become chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and then scientific truth won’t matter at all.

Oklahoma is an energy-producing state, and the oil and gas business is important to the economy. There’s also nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. Even allowing room for those two caveats, The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in the state, doesn’t even begin to deal honestly with the developing science about global warming and fracking. This is not good for the state’s long-term welfare. What happens, for example, when the fracking boom plays out?

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