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June 6, 2006

The Silent Treatment

It’s one thing for a trade association like the World Shipping Council to refuse to issue a comment for my article about North Atlantic Right Whale protection. But it’s another thing for the federal agency in charge of enforcing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act to ignore requests for an interview.

Getting sources from federal agencies is not always pleasant, but I never expected that my experience with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS) would be so painful, and result, after several awkward and headache-inducing phone calls with the agency’s press person, in the equivalent of "no comment."

The agency’s silence raises basic questions about accountability and the public’s right to know about how the government is or is not enforcing the ESA. And, for any muckraking journalist, it raises suspicion. Surely someone can answer as to why it’s taken the agency so long to enforce the ESA?

Not only did I spend a substantial amount of time on the phone describing the article to NMFS’s press person, but I was then required to defend why I even wanted an interview in the first place. It’s called journalism. I tried to explain. I could have heard my neighbors’ dinner conversation over the stillness that ensued from the other end of the phone.

I already knew who I wanted to interview; I had requested this source several times (and even called him directly, twice), but the press person was more guard dog than media liaison. Eventually, he said he’d work on finding me someone to talk to. By then it was 5 pm. Friday.

On Monday morning, he called. He had nothing. I reiterated that I wanted to talk to someone who could answer questions about NFMS’s strategy for right whale protection.

That, he said, would make it even tougher (I was confused, as per our previous conversation, why he didn’t already know what I was after). Apparently, there is no one at NFMS that can speak for NFMS.

He never called me back.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.