Happy Dump Day! The Palin Emails are Released… Sort of.
~Fox News’ copies of Palin’s emails, Juneau, AK. Photo by ‘Mudflatter D.’
By Jeanne Devon
Well, the day we’ve been waiting for has arrived. It only took (looks at watch) two years and change. I refer of course to the emails to and from Sarah Palin that were requested by individuals and news organizations to give them some insight into who this virtually unknown vice presidential candidate was – that which is known today as “The Palin Email Dump.”
Well, with all the information now out there, I’m retroactively confident in my choice not to have voted for her. Phew.
The state of Alaska, of course, lamented about how hard all this was. There were a lot of emails, and it took a long time to read them all, and go through, and sort and stack and copy, and on and on…
But seriously, folks. This is the 21st century, right? In the world of document processing, the Palin email project is nothing. Thirty thousand documents? What was the holdup?
The State of Alaska did not have the software to do the job. What they do have can’t remove duplicates, can’t run word searches for “hot” terms, and can’t cluster similar emails. The entire project was being done MANUALLY. For you youngsters, that’s a term that means “by hand.”
Now, in the State’s defense, it probably didn’t think it would ever have to deal with these types of large requests. How could it possibly have foreseen the nightmare that was the Palin administration, and all the fallout that would ensue? To equip the Department of Law with the proper software would have been expensive. It doesn’t make sense to do it, if we make the hopeful assumption that we will never again end up with a “Palin” in office here. The state thought it wouldn’t get a good return on its investment, and we all hope they were right.
But , this raises a question. Why wasn’t this work, like much of the State’s legal work, farmed out to a private firm that has the software, a dedicated server and contract attorneys to do the work? This kind of work could be charged by the amount of information being processed, rather than by the hour, and would likely be far less expensive than having a team of “Bob Cratchits” with quill pens and ledgers and candles doing this work manually for over two years. I’ve been wondering about this since October of 2009, and during delay after delay by the state.
The contract attorneys would be dedicated to this one job until it was done. They would not be subjected to being pulled off the job to work on other things like state employees are. And the contract attorneys would be subject to the same confidentiality as the attorneys in the Dept of Law. Everything is still privileged information. According to attorneys in the know, it’s a pretty typical solution for any sort of legal issue involving huge amounts of electronic documents such as these. With better software, the work could be done relatively quickly. 21,000 emails is nothing when you have good software and experienced people, and would take days or maybe weeks to complete, but not over a year, with no end in sight.
So, why when the State is clearly unable to handle this type of request in a timely manner, and why when cases like this are routinely farmed out to those who can handle them quickly and are subject to confidentiality, is this being done manually by attorneys within the Department of Law who Jones claims are being pulled away from other projects?
Good question, a year and a half later.
But today, all that is water under the bridge. It’s “Dump Day” in Juneau, and the emails are released! The media is all over them like winter ravens on a Wendy’s dumpster. Sarah Palin herself says there will be nothing to find, and that “every stone” has been turned over, but was quick to add that whatever anyone does find will surely be taken “out of context.”
As someone who has survived the dubious task of actually reading through tens of thousands of Sarah Palin’s emails, I can hold my hand on my heart and tell the media I know what they are going through. My life is a Palin email dump. And I tell them, and you who are eagerly gobbling up morsels as they are ferreted out of the giant pile, that sadly the most telling thing about this new dump of Palin emails is not what anyone is going to find, it’s what they are not going to find.
The emails are being put online now by the Washington Post HERE. Next to the .pdf download it says “Full text of Sarah Palin’s emails during her time as Governor of Alaska.” Wishful thinking.
First of all, these emails only include those that were sent to or from a government email account. This is exactly why those in her “inner circle” did not use government accounts for much of their communication. Yahoo accounts are private and not subject to open records laws. This is convenient if you don’t want people to know what you are doing, as was the typical modus operandi of the “open and transparent” Palin administration.
Second, the “full text” of the emails does not include things which are redacted because of executive privilege, deliberative process, or if they contain items of a personal nature like a phone number. These things are understandable. There are things that would be harmful to the state if they were revealed in a public way, and although there are those that would love to know, I can personally do without knowing what toothpaste is used in the Palin household, or all about what they had for dinner last night at Taco Bell. I’m also willing to concede that despite how fun it might be, it’s probably not a good idea to call Sean Parnell at home and ask him if his refrigerator is running.
So, let’s have a look at the list of those emails that we don’t get to see, and the explanation (which we are owed) as to why we don’t get to see them. HERE is a link to what is called the “Privilege Log” that will tell us that information.
What the privilege log tells us is that thousands of emails were either withheld or redacted. Out of 14,482 emails, more than 2,300 had sections redacted, and more than 950 were completely withheld. And what did these emails contain? Some of them had to do with big state secrets like the Anchorage Daily News’ gossip column, The Ear. Others had to do with outspoken Palin critic, and former opponent Andrew Halcro. One cited the Alaska Constitution and its right to privacy to withhold an email over a “child custody issue.” Did that have anything to do with Troopergate and the custody issue involving her ex-brother-in-law Mike Wooten and why she wanted him fired? Why would it be necessary to redact an email about the Alaska Railroad’s use of pesticides? Or one about a letter to the editor? Or contact from shady real estate developer Bob Penney? The Bridge to Nowhere? Aerial wolf hunting? A proclamation about flu shots? The polar bear and its listing under the Endangered Species Act?
Why is an email being redacted for “deliberative process” when the subject is “Miss America”?
These are things that we will presumably never know.
Many of the emails on the list actually appear not to comply with the law. They do not have a summary explaining to us why they are being withheld in the first place. And why do we have the legal right to know this? Because they are OUR emails. As difficult as it may be to remember, Palin and crew actually worked for us.
Will any of these media outlets or private individuals challenge these witholdings and demand that they be released? How many relevant documents are wrongfully being withheld under the cloak of “executive privilege”? Does the Parnell administration have an interest in keeping information from the public that we have a right to know?
An email has been withheld for reasons of deliberative process that was sent by the governor to Chief of Staff Mike Tibbles, and aides Meg Stapleton and Kris Perry, copied to state employees Sharon Leighow, John Bitney and Christopher Clark, AND…. private citizen and employee of BP Exploration, Todd Palin.
Guess what? As soon as a private citizen is copied on a state email, all rights of privilege go out the window. Todd Palin is a private citizen just like you and me. It is not allowable for the chief executive to pick and choose which private citizens get to be included in these communications and which do not. If it’s good for one, then it’s legally good for all. Oh, right. The Alaska Courts think otherwise. Todd’s a “consultant.” But he’s NOT a state employee when it comes to Troopergate and matters of his depositions in that regard. He’s kind of like Dick Cheney, morphing his status as it suits the purpose. Great.
So, Happy Dump Day, America. Enjoy the show, and indulge your inner forensic voyeur. But remember, you are seeing what you have been allowed to see, and the notion of open and transparent government is the issue. We need news organizations to challenge that which is being wrongfully withheld from the public. And we need our courts to say that it is not OK that state business, the business of the people, is conducted via means that allow it to be concealed from us.