Having perfected the art of the non-press conference, United States Attorney David Kustoff and FBI Special Agent in Charge My Harrison are working hard on the non-speech.
Harrison was the speaker at the Rotary luncheon this week. Normally that would be a marginal news event at best, but under the circumstances Operation Main Street Sweeper, Tennessee Waltz, Operation Last Call there seemed to be a chance that she would have something interesting to say
She did not. Her speech, which followed an obsequious and overly long introduction by retired Secret Service agent Henry Hooper, was a catalogue of clichés and no-comments. Rotarians gamely asked her about closed cases as well as open ones and about the glaring lack of any supply-side indictments in the corruption cases, but Harrison refused to bite although she characterized herself as a regular public speaker.
It left me wondering when, where and if the FBI and the Justice Department in their professional capacity -- ever get exposed to sharply worded contrarian views. Before they launch an investigation that will screw up someone’s life, do they ask an outsider to connect the dots, fill in the history, tell them they’re full of crap, or suggest that they don’t know what they’re talking about?
Say what you will about politicians and the reporters and editors, but that sort of blunt feedback is part of our everyday lives and it makes us better at what we do. You can pick up The Commercial Appeal or The Memphis Flyer any day and find a letter ripping some specific someone for getting it wrong, at least in the opinion of the letter writer. National policy-makers defend themselves on television round the clock. A City Council meeting often includes thoughtful and forceful face-to-face debate on issues large and small. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.
One member of the City Council, Dedrick Brittenum, was prominently featured in a Commercial Appeal story this week for getting a subpoena. The news judgment was questionable, but it shows the current political climate in which subpoenas, complaints, indictments, and convictions are lumped together as indications of guilt. I would like to hear Kustoff and Harrison talk about that, and they could do it in a way that would not jeopardize any pending cases.
They could also talk more openly about terrorism (the Justice Department’s top priority), the politics of Tennessee Waltz and Main Street Sweeper, and the reason for the current crackdowns on the perennial problems of prostitution and strip clubs.
As a former Republican Party activist, Kustoff knows very well the politics of corruption in Memphis. There are ways for him to discuss concepts predication of politicians, use of sting operations, and when a blustering racist or a Muslim marriage broker becomes a domestic terrorist, for example without blowing cases. The same goes for Harrison, a former law enforcement officer. Much is made of her being a black female, but the real issue is diversity of points of view, not gender or color.
The Memphis Rotary Club is not exactly the Washington press corps or the ACLU. It’s a group of civic-minded and serious citizens capable of understanding complicated ideas and at the same time willing to grant the need for confidentiality about specifics in open investigations. The Rotarians and Memphis deserve explanations. If Justice honchos don’t want to be seen as Republican hit men they better open up.