What we’re reading: paper wins legal battle with sheriff; formaldehyde and cancer; Katrina and orders to shoot; e-books and reading revolutions

August 26, 2010 by Andrew Clevenger

Another Thursday, another batch of stories we admire.

After a three-year legal fight, the Jackson County (Ore.) Sheriff must pay almost $44,000 in legal fees after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that he wrongly withheld the names of people with concealed handguns from the Medford Mail Tribune. The newspaper was trying to determine how many teachers had permits to carry guns after a local teacher sued the county for permission to carry a gun on school grounds. “We really had no desire to see the sheriff spend money on legal fees instead of patrol deputies, but we also think it’s important to make sure that public officials follow the law themselves and that they make every effort to keep public records open to the public,” said Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter.

Building on a New Yorker profile of libertarians David and Charles Koch, two billionaire brothers who have given millions to right-wing causes, Propublica.org noted that David Koch’s company Koch Industries has lobbied to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from designating formaldehyde as a carcinogen. Koch, a cancer survivor himself who was appointed to the National Cancer Institute in 2004 by President George W. Bush, has given extensively to cancer research, while Koch Industries has given to Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., who helped delay the EPA’s efforts to officially link the chemical to cancer in humans.

On the eve of the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, an ongoing joint investigation by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Frontline and ProPublica.org has revealed that New Orleans police officers were told they could shoot looters. In the days following Katrina, police shot 11 civilians, although none of the officers implicated or charged in the shootings has invoked the order to shoot as justification for their actions. A one-hour Frontline documentary, “Law and Disorder,” has begun airing on PBS stations nationwide.

With all the talk of the “Reading Revolution” spurred by e-books and other digital devices, the Atlantic took a look back at 10 previous watershed moments in the history of literacy. “Communications legend Harold Innis suggested that the history of culture itself was characterized by a balance between media that persisted in time — think stone inscriptions and heavy parchment books — and those offering the greatest portability across space, like paper, radio, and television,” author Tim Carmody noted. It’s a nice reminder that the ways that humans communicate information have been shaken up and become obsolete before, and somehow we all adjust.

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