The Great Wall of Mississippi

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It is important to understand the difficulty of reporting in the South.  Establishing trust.  Finding those people willing to talk to a reporter – let alone one from the North and gasp! the Northeast – is a painstaking challenge.

Wait.

Is near impossible.

I am beginning to feel guilty – defeated.  Why am I not doing enough?  Is it something I said?  Is it the way I talk?  Oh, no, it’s the way I talk isn’t it?  Why are my sources so willing at one turn – yes, Ms. Andy! – now drying up?  Are these just a bunch of scared liars without courage of their convictions?  Too polite to say no straight away yet possessing the power of willful amnesia applied expertly  in uncomfortable circumstances.  Involuntary reflex, just like drawing breath.

My story – the story of religion in Mississippi public policy is falling apart!  No one is talking.  MPB is drying up.  My experts are running for the hills.  The administration refuses to talk although Governor Bryant brags about the awe-inspiring transparency he’s brought to the office.

Wait.

That is part of the story.  The Great Wall of Mississippi. (Especially all this talk about sex! Religion! Race! Uncomfortable City).

The personal side of this wall, the private citizen, the teen mother, the people who work for privately funded organizations or the simple passer-by have a clear right to refuse to talk.  I understand this and am grateful and at times shocked when someone agrees to sit with me and talk for a while. Setting aside the “yes” then “no” breach of etiquette – I get it.*

The real problem comes in when publicly funded entities, governmental agencies, NGOs the administration refuses to answer questions.  They are accountable not just to Yankee reporters but to the public at large – especially the state’s own citizenry.  Mississippi takes in so much federal funding why would no one question how they are using those funds?  About legislation, about goddamn everything?

Here’s an example.

A news outlet here in Jackson recently contacted the Governor’s office.  They spoke with Julia or Mick (the governor’s unhelpful spokespeople) to try to track down the governor for a few questions.  The outlet was told of the Governor’s schedule and told they could of course ask questions at the event Bryant was presiding over.

But!  Julia asked the news director to please not ask any questions about Medicaid.

Stop a minute here.  This is what you need to know about Medicaid in Mississippi:  it is due to run out first of July.  A special session of the legislature must be called, a vote taken, to affirm continued funding of the program in the state (which desperately needs it).  Governor Bryant doesn’t like all that fancy Obama money and made a political hot potato out of Medicaid like so many of his like-minded right-wing republican Governors.

Okay – so – Julia asking a news outlet to please not ask about that whole Medicaid business…this is typical of how that office rolls.  And Julia’s response was to a local news outlet – to reporters and writers Byrant’s office is very familiar with.

So when I called Julia then Mick it wasn’t surprising (although exceedingly frustrating) that both shut me down flat.  Mick went so far as to not call me back but to call MPB to ask who I was and let them know that he wouldn’t and therefore the governor wouldn’t be talking to any ole’ blogger.

That is why I have to show up places.  Its really the only way to get things done – to get a fleeting chance to ask “Governor Bryant, can you comment on the ACLU investigation into misuse of ab-only federal funds?” or, “Governor Bryant, can you comment on your administration’s partnership with the anti-gay, anti-abortion, Florida organization Truth in Action Ministries?”

Things like that.

With that, I am off to the Capitol.  The Governor is speaking this morning on the steps of some old building.  Maybe I can get a moment of his time.

*NOTE:  I am from Iowa – I know about defending one’s home – Iowans are just a bunch of cow-tipping potato growers after all.  

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