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In an episode resembling a union-sponsored version of street theater of the absurd more than journalism, Lou Dobbs and reporter Lisa Sylvester recently combined with Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner to inform the nation that:
- “morale has plummeted” in the Border Patrol following the conviction and incarceration of two agents for shooting a would-be drug smuggler, and then covering it up;
- “a real perception” that Chief David Aguilar “doesn’t have their [i.e., the Border Patrol agents’] back” is rampant in the Border Patrol
- agents have “written him [Aguilar] off as a leader,” and “want to see him ousted.”
These nuggets of purported fact were topped off with Sylvester relaying Bonner’s speculation that Chief Aguilar will “probably see a promotion” as the result of the union’s objections to his leadership.
This solemn recounting of the union’s gripes was not cluttered with any opinions other than those supplied by Bonner.
Neither Dobbs nor Sylvester seemed to find it necessary to engage in anything resembling actual journalism; for example, asking additional, related questions of their single source, and/or chatting up other sources about the sweeping allegations being made by Bonner. If they had, both they and their audience might have found the answers enlightening.
In an effort to remedy this glaring oversight, presented below are a few stunningly obvious questions that Dobbs/Sylvester might have asked, along with answers that might have emerged with minimal additional effort.
Unasked Question #1:
Mr. Bonner stated that morale has plummeted, that there is a perception that Chief Aguilar doesn’t “have the back” of Border Patrol agents, and that they want him “ousted.” He further claimed that opinion is unanimous. So how, exactly, did he determine that this is a unanimous opinion? Did he poll all 11,000 Border Patrol Agents?
Undiscovered Answer #1:
Nope. If one looks closely, it turns out the only people actually polled were “100 union leaders.” Amazingly, they apparently all agreed with the top union guy’s opinion—thereby making the vote “unanimous,” though on a rather small scale.
Unasked Question #2:
Does Mr. Bonner have some special insight into the thinking of current Border Patrol Agents based on his 29 years service?
Undiscovered Answer #2:
Unlikely, since it appears the last time he did any regular Border Patrol Agent work was back during the Reagan Administration.
Unasked Question #3:
So what, exactly, does Mr. Bonner spend his time doing?
Undiscovered Answer #3:
Although no clear accounting of his time seems to be posted anywhere, it appears to consist of:
- Wandering around Capitol Hill, schmoozing with members of Congress and their staffers, while providing them with the union’s version of reality.
- Responding to every change proposed by Border Patrol—including the reorganization and streamlining envisioned by Congress in its creation of DHS—with a laundry list of bargaining demands.
- Demanding that the agency delay every change in organization, technology, or operational method that it proposes until bargaining on the ensuing laundry list of demands is completed to the union’s satisfaction—regardless of how important the proposed change may be to accomplishment of Border Patrol’s mission (e.g., the introduction of key detection technology), or how long the bargaining might drag on. (See, for example, this FLRA decision. )
- Doing sound bites on CNN.
Unasked Question #4:
In previous interviews, Mr. Bonner claimed that the Border Patrol is having trouble recruiting the number of agents needed to secure the border. How are public assertions that morale has plummeted, that agents have no confidence in the leader of the organization, and that they are subject to being wrongly punished likely to affect that recruiting effort?
Undiscovered Answer #4:
Probably not in a positive manner. But that’s not the union’s problem.
Unasked Question #5:
It is, to say the least, highly unusual for an employee of any organization to go on TV and refer to the head of that organization as “bobble head doll,” to announce that he has orchestrated a “no confidence” vote in his leadership, and then publicly call for his “ouster.” Doing so would, for obvious reasons, result in the prompt termination of most any employee, regardless of the organization.
Inasmuch as Mr. Bonner has gone on TV and emphasized that he is still an employee of the U.S. Border Patrol—not some company stockholder speaking at a corporate meeting, or a member of Congress, or even just a regular taxpaying citizen—how is it appropriate for him to be publicly dissing his boss and campaigning for a specific approach to U.S. immigration policy?
Undiscovered Answer #5:
It’s not. It is well established in both the private and public sectors that employees of an organization do not enjoy an unfettered right to identify themselves as employees, and then publicly attack their leaders or the organization.
But since the water can—and no doubt will—be muddied with contentions that a) this over-the-top behavior merely represents the exercise of free speech rights; or b) that being a federal union official provides license to say just about anything with impunity; and c) because the emotion surrounding the illegal immigration debate provides a great smokescreen, Mr. Bonner apparently feels secure in launching his media attack.
And he may be correct in that assessment. Particularly when one takes into account those frequently-visited folks on Capitol Hill, some of whom would gleefully welcome any attack aimed in the general direction of the Bush Administration—no matter how inappropriate or counter-productive.
It would seem highly likely that if Mr. Bonner were called to account for his actions in this staged farce, they would likely swarm to his defense—notwithstanding the probability that none of them would hesitate a moment to fire one of their own staffers for trying a similar stunt.