Static: Wednesday, April 13, 2005
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Indecent Under-Exposure


Which of the following happens in the United States? A) secret court proceedings having to do with national security; B) secret criminal cases having nothing to do with national security; C) a secret divorce case (??); D) all of the above.
Answer: D, of course. What, you think this is a democracy or somethin’?
That’s the kind of cheery information journalists tend to swap when they get together these days. Like at the Society of Professional Journalists’ local banquet on Saturday. Dan Christensen, an award-winning reporter for Miami’s Daily Business Review, told the crowd about the case he uncovered in Florida of Mohamed Bellahouel, who was secretly detained for five months in federal custody because he may have committed the dangerous act of serving food at a public restaurants to two 9/11 terrorists. Christensen learned of the case only because a clerk mistakenly included it on a court calendar — and then removed it.
A few weeks after that, Christensen also reported on a Colombian drug trafficking case from 2002, in which a defendant was convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned in complete secrecy — despite constitutional and case-law bans on such actions. And, the reporter said, he’s since heard of cases elsewhere in which judges agreed to seal civil proceedings like divorce cases. (Maybe a disgruntled spouse wanted to reveal national security pillow talk.)
All of which helps explain why the press types had gathered that night. Besides awarding scholarships and shivering at Christensen’s tales, they were handing out prizes to journalists whose work has helped publicize freedom of information issues. Among those honored: the Weekly’s Betty Brink, for a story (“Dreams Diverted,” Aug. 4, 2004) about an Evans Avenue redevelopment project where funds — and results —seem to have gone astray. Also grabbing hardware was a team of journalism students from SMU and the University of North Texas, who revealed in the Weekly how Texas colleges are not telling the full story about campus crime (“Insecurity on Campus,” Dec. 1, 2004).
SPJ has released the full list of winners — no secret categories, no statuettes kept in custody — and will gladly provide it to anyone who asks — even the feds.

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