Blog or Government Propaganda Tool?

 Posted on March 08, 2008 in Uncategorized

Is it just me, or should a blawg contain some original content?

I'd added David Finn's Dallas Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer "blog" to my reader because I defend federal criminal cases in Dallas and because I've heard of David (and am acquainted with his partner, George Milner III). It'd been on my list for a few weeks, providing nothing that even looked worth clicking through to. Ho-hum.

Until today, when I saw the headline 4 Indicted In Texas Mortgage Fraud Scheme. I was just retained by a new client who is charged with mortgage fraud in Texas, so I clicked to see what David had to say about mortgage fraud. Imagine my surprise to see that "David's" "blog" post (signed with his name at the bottom) was about my client. Imagine my greater surprise to find that the post read much like the USDOJ press release about my client's prosecution. Much like? Nay, verbatim.

Interested for the first time in David's "writings," I took a look at the other posts on his "blog." Compare Mortgage Fraud Prosecution on the Rise by David Finn with State, U.S. Preparing Loan Fraud Crackdown by J. Patrick Coolican of the Las Vegas Sun. In Predatory Lending – is it a Crime?, at least "Judge Finn" gives HUD the byline for the material that he copied from this page. The previous post over David's name, Federal Reserve Board Aims to Curtail Predatory Lending Practices, seems to have come wholesale from here.

This blog is the intersection of the Super Lawyer discussion, the Former Prosecutor discussion, the Half-an-Hour a Week discussion, and the Ghostblawging discussion, with a little bit of "look-at-me-I'm-a-government-stooge" added in for good measure.

David is a purported "Super Lawyer," a former prosecutor who is spending half an hour a week - if that - producing his blog thanks to the unwitting help of his ghostblawgers at DOJ, the Las Vegas Sun, and other sources.

But "government stooge"? Them's fightin' words in Texas; might be in Dallas too. So I'd better back 'em up.

Stealing from J. Patrick Coolican is one thing. Patrick and the Las Vegas Sun might object strenuously and litigiously, but at least you're plagiarizing the work of someone who might himself have some journalistic ethics.

Repeating what the Federal Reserve Board or HUD tells you, if you're a criminal-defense lawyer, is another thing. It'd be better to give the governmental agency credit and a link, but the Federal Reserve Board is not generally your adversary. Sometimes other governmental agencies say things that might be of interest to us and our clients.

But by repeating what the DOJ tells you and giving it the added credibility of publication over your own name, though, you serve the Government that is trying to put your clients - and my clients - in prison.

The DOJ puts out press releases. Why? Because keeping the populace well-informed is good for the government? Please.

The DOJ puts out press releases so that if you are charged with a federal crime that the press might be interested in, your friends will know about it, your neighbors will know about it, your employer will know about it, and your children will know about it. So that, no matter how innocent you are, and even if you ultimately clear your name in court, your reputation is shot forever. So that you are, in other words, hosed.

I had a discussion some years ago with a Houston federal criminal-defense lawyer who was reprinting DOJ press releases on his web page to boost his search engine rankings. He, too, had reprinted a press release about a client of mine who was accused of mortgage fraud; he agreed with me that doing so probably wasn't appropriate.

Lawyers who are ethically representing their clients (as opposed to aggrandizing themselves) will try hard to keep their clients' names out of the public eye. Once a client's reputation in the community is damaged, even an acquittal and an expunction will not restore it.

DOJ press releases are a propaganda tool. The government is trying to get free publicity in its struggle to take away people's freedom. Legitimate information sources don't reprint press releases (any press releases) word-for-word. Newspapers, for example, receiving one of these press releases, will investigate a bit, make sure it's true, see if there's a story of interest to the readers, and give the other side an opportunity to tell its story. Bloggers don't have the same ethical rules as journalists, but real bloggers will - at a bare minimum - cite to the source of the information so that readers can consider the source. Not David - David takes the DOJ's press release and signs his name to it. Better bloggers won't repeat the information without some comment or context - why is this story important to the reader? What does it mean?

By disseminating the government's propaganda without critique, citation, context or comment, a "blogger" serves as nothing more than a conduit for propaganda. He acts, in other words, as a government stooge.

So why do it? I suppose someone has told David that he gets better search placement by adding content often. For a busy lawyer like David, original content shouldn't be hard to come by. More likely, he's got someone else posting on his blog for him, and they don't have anything original to say about the narrow field of Dallas federal criminal defense.

So why not do it? Because - aside from the fact that our job is to make the government's job more difficult, and not less - what comes around goes around, and some day, David, you will have a client who would just as soon his name not be spread far and wide for the sake of some other lawyer's search-engine rankings.

(Postscript: I got an email from J. Patrick Coolican thanking me for tagging David's plagiarism. "My editor," wrote Patrick, "will be in touch with the judge today." I've burned a PDF of David's blog as it was when I wrote this post so that, after David takes down the offending posts, I can prove that I didn't imagine it.)

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