If you’ve been reading about the arrest of Julian Assange, then you probably have an opinion about the controversial WikiLeaks founder. I do. But the dustup has brought back memories of the government threatening to throw me in jail for refusing to reveal the name of a source — and of my resulting determination to fight for you.
Why I fight for you
I can’t think of anything worse than leaving consumers in the dark. So when the Transportation Security Administration adopted new and unspecified security procedures after a failed terrorist attack in 2009 but refused to tell anyone what it had done, I obtained and published the memo detailing the measures.
A few days later, a federal marshal showed up at my front door and asked me to give up the source of the memo.
Journalists don’t give up the names of their sources. Instead of complying, I called my lawyer. I told him I couldn’t cooperate.
The feds gave me several days to consider the consequences of my actions. “You could go to jail for this,” my lawyer told me.
But the government’s efforts were wrong on so many levels — drafting a secret rule, keeping millions of air travelers in the dark and then pursuing me for doing my job — that I knew I had to take a principled stand.
At the time, I thought I wasn’t doing anything special. But refusing to name a confidential source is a big deal.
Information is power
I heard from people such as Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who went to jail for refusing to name a source, offering their support. But I also came to understand the stakes. Companies — and to a certain extent, governments — seek to control the information consumers receive. Why? Because information is power.
Fighting that power can be costly and dangerous.
After a few tense days and frantic calls between my lawyer and the federal authorities, the TSA dropped its subpoena. I breathed a deep sigh of relief but was more determined than ever to fight for you.
And that’s why I’m here today. I may not be publishing state secrets, as Assange did, but you might be surprised at the lengths companies will go to keep information about their key executives under wraps. They threaten, they lie, and occasionally, they sue.
They will not succeed. I publish their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site.
This week’s advocacy
My advocacy team and I have never been busier. Since the beginning of April, we’ve received 453 cases. At this rate, we will shatter the 1,000-case mark for the month. Our pageviews are up 43 percent from a year ago, to 466,883. We’re helping more people every day than ever thanks to your help.
I’m grateful for your support.
I was so happy to see the Travel Troubleshooter in the San Francisco Chronicle again last weekend. If you’re in the Bay Area, please let the Chron know you saw the story. Who knows, they might return the feature to its weekly rotation? Given that so many of my journalism colleagues are out of work (or even in jail) I am thankful for the outlets I do have: USA Today, the Washington Post, Forbes, and my nationally syndicated columns through King Features.
I feel very privileged to fight for you and to have these platforms. Assange’s arrest makes me more determined than ever to use my platforms for the benefit of consumers everywhere.
This week’s stories
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No room at the hotel, so why won’t Priceline refund his stay?
When Liam Goodman tries to check in to his hotel in New York, no rooms are available. So he goes to another property. Why is Priceline keeping his money for the first hotel? Can he get a Priceline refund?
Why won’t Microsoft pay for a missing pen tip on my Surface 4 pen?
When Microsoft replaces Jasmine Cunningham’s Surface 4 pen, it neglects an important component: the tip. Now it’s balking at replacing this critical component.
How the best airline in America got its mojo back
Delta Air Lines is the best airline in America, according to the latest Airline Quality Rating (AQR). The airline’s victory — its first in 18 years — comes against a backdrop of steady service improvement for the entire industry, which could be good news for all airline passengers. Or not. The Airline Quality Rating, now in its 29th year, is one of the most comprehensive studies of performance and quality of the largest airlines in the United States. Researchers from Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University based their ranking on government-reported data on mishandled baggage, consumer complaints, on-time performance and involuntary denied boardings.
These are the most ridiculous fees in travel
Eric Hochstein found the most ridiculous travel fee on his bill at the Gregory Hotel in New York City recently. No, it wasn’t the mandatory $35-per-day resort fee that covers local and domestic calls, a 24-hour fitness center and coffee and tea. And it wasn’t the $259-per-night room rate, which was below average for Manhattan. It was that the resort fee – which the Gregory calls a Tailored Fee to fit its garment theme – including a donation to charity to “save the Garment Center.”
The family vacation planning guide for families who hate to plan
If you hate to plan, your last family vacation probably was filled with chaos. I know a thing or two about that. Here’s a memorable scene: It’s New Year’s Day. I’ve just boarded a flight from Phoenix to Denver with three kids. Everyone’s a little nervous because we have no place to stay in Colorado and nothing to do while we’re there. I’ve just downloaded the Airbnb app on my phone and am frantically searching for places with the help of a travel agent, who is so frustrated with me that she’s about to quit.