Have we entered the Twilight Zone? A mainstream media outlet is going after Congress, particularly a Democrat Congress, for not living up to one of their promises?
CNN correspondent Drew Griffin and a team of two staffers and six interns all 435 members of the House of Representatives a simple question - if they get obtain a copy of each representative's earmark request. Even with the Democrats' campaign promise before the last election that they wanted a more "open" government, 330 members of the House never responded to the simple request. Another 67 refused the interns' request. Ultimately, they were only able to obtain the earmark requests from the offices of 31 representatives. Out of the 31, seven said they had no earmark requests in the fiscal year 2008 budget.
CNN aired two different reports about this, one on "Anderson Cooper 360" on June 18, and the other on the June 19 "American Morning." The report on "Anderson Cooper 360" aired the following excerpt from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
DREW GRIFFIN: ...Last week Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed a new open earmark process saying finally the American people will know where their money is going, and then she said this.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: If I just might direct the record to another place, why don't we just leave this room today forgetting the word earmark? This is legislatively directed spending as opposed to executive spending.
GRIFFIN: And Ms. Pelosi, for the record, a member of your staff told us you would not reveal your "legislatively directed spending requests."
Host Anderson Cooper then had Griffin on to comment about his investigation. The exchange itself is quite "eye-opening," to use a term mentioned in the exchange.
ANDERSON COOPER: Drew, it's just amazing that nothing has changed. What happened to all those promises about transparency, about having this whole process be open? I can't believe you had all those interns calling for days and some 330 lawmakers said they just wouldn't even give out the information.
GRIFFIN: Anderson it's mind-boggling. One congressional aide even sent us an e-mail saying, listen, my congressman is an advocate of the open process and at the same time said we're not going to release our earmark requests.
It's just been an eye-opening experience, but quite frankly the more we're doing this, the more we're keeping them honest and other groups are, the more open they are grudgingly becoming so tonight we have posted at cnn.com the results of our surveys. We're going to show you who did send us the earmarks and their earmark requests, who said no, who wouldn't respond and even, Anderson, who was rude to those poor little interns when they called asking what Congress wants to do with our money.
COOPER: The fact that people would be rude, that is really annoying, you know. This is -- this is, A, what journalists are supposed to be doing but it's also what citizens should be able to do, you know, to the people who represent them.
GRIFFIN: Clearly it's annoying to them. They don't like to be called on the carpet, especially, I mean, I hate to get political here, but have you to. The Democrats promised in December open, transparent process. Now they are being called to come up with that open, transparent process and it's been difficult because for so many years and decades, quite frankly, business as usual has been slipped in those earmark requests and we'll continue to pay for them.
In the "American Morning" segment, co-host Kiran Chetry interviewed two of the interns that took part in the investigation. Chetry's question to one of them was quite straightforward.
KIRAN CHETRY: The Democrat-controlled Congress, one of the things they ran on was saying that they wanted a much more open government. Did you find that was the case, Rachel?
RACHEL REYNOLDS, CNN INTERN: As far as my experiences, no. I mean, at first, I got a few as Chamise had, the same experience, a few yeses, and then we'll see how it goes ,and then it was just voice mail, voice mail, voice mail, and that is not open in my book at all.
As "American Morning" ran their report of this investigation, along with the related interns' interview and an interview of Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, information on the number of earmark requests and the total cost of the requests from each of the 31 responding representatives ran on the scroll at the bottom of the screen.
Even with their well-documented left-wing bias, it's good to see CNN doing some real journalism on Congress, or as Anderson Cooper put it, "what journalists are supposed to be doing."