"How did it come to pass that an opposition's measure of a president's foreign policy was all or nothing, success or "failure"? The answer is that the political absolutism now normal in Washington arrived at the moment--Nov. 7, 2000--that our politics subordinated even a war against terror to seizing the office of the presidency." - Daniel Henninger - WSJ 11/18/05
"the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." - George Orwell

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Patriotism and the Press

From our side of the news-opinion wall, the Swift story looks like part of an alarming pattern. Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role - New York Times Editorial Board - June 28, 2006 - in defense of the "paper of record"
The "alarming pattern," the editorial speaks of, is part of an effort to thwart an enemy; the likes of which, we have never dealt with. The "alarming pattern" the editorial sees is one based upon a need for the utmost in security, in this day and age of loose lips for scoring of political points. The "alarming pattern" the editorial sees ignores the fact that none of the steps the administration has taken has only been known by the president; but by leaders in the Congress as well. So when the editorialists say, "(T)he Swift program, like the wiretapping program, has been under way for years with no restrictions except those that the executive branch chooses to impose on itself," they ignore that there are self-imposed restrictions in line with the Constitution.

More from the Editorial:
There have been a handful of times in American history when the government has indeed tried to prosecute journalists for publishing things it preferred to keep quiet. None of them turned out well — from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the time when the government tried to enjoin The Times and The Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers.
This is just a bit arrogant, wouldn't you say?

'Don't mess with us, we are untouchable. We are the ultimate arbiters of morality and truth. We have a duty to protect the people of the U.S. from themselves; and oftentimes the efforts may appear to be antithetical to a desired outcome. Worry not, we know better and we will protect you from evil. Do not disparage yourselves for lacking the wit, wisdom and intelligence to see that which we of the fourth estate have the power to discern.'

Furthermore the Editorialists make the jab at the ignorant mislead Right Wing:
most of our readers know, there is a large wall between the news and opinion operations of this paper, and we were not part of the news side's debates about whether to publish the latest story under contention
We can only take their word on this assumption on their part, as we can't know what "most" of their readers know. I have no doubt that the editorial side was not part of the decision to go with the story; but I take umbrage with the "large wall" analogy. If the paper believes the administration does not respect the "wall" representing the separation of church and state, we have no reason to believe a source as unaccountable as the media is respects their "wall" any better. On the contrary, with groupthink being as it is in the bubble, they don't even realize the slant of their "objective," reporting. Do most of their readers "know" this? Those of the Left spectrum certainly do and see the media as being Rightwardly slanted.

Our news colleagues work under the assumption that they should let the people know anything important that the reporters learn, unless there is some grave and overriding reason for withholding the information. They try hard not to base those decisions on political calculations, like whether a story would help or hurt the administration.
Perhaps they need to reconsider what they consider "grave and overriding." The paper considered that this was "known" information and that "(T)errorist groups would have had to be fairly credulous not to suspect that they would be subject to scrutiny if they moved money around through international wire transfers." This last point is certainly realistic, but reminders and more detail is something the "terrorist groups" don't need to know or be reminded of. Besides, it's not as though the paper showed that Swift was illegal; it was just a story they felt worth publishing for circulation's sake. It is no doubt to me that the hope of yet another "conspiracy" theory and witchhunt of the administration weighed on their minds as well. Nothing like the smell of blood in the water to sharks.

Based upon the paper withholding the story of the NSA program for a year while it weighed administration objections, we are supposed to give them a free pass now. I think it more likely that it is just becoming easier on their part to justify that all is fair in love and war and that they are at war; unfortunately not with the same enemy as the rest of us. If it's not becoming easier for them, why then in one instance do they wait a year and in another, hours.

One last statement that vexes me:
A half-century ago, the country endured a long period of amorphous, global vigilance against an enemy who was suspected of boring from within, and history suggests that under those conditions, it is easy to err on the side of security and secrecy.
What on earth are they referring to? The Cold War? McCarthy? Was it all our imaginations or does the paper of record still believe in the innocence of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss among others.

In closing, the reality is that their assumptions are theoretical. There is no story here of government running roughshod, only that the Times does not believe in this administration, nor the war on terror. At least not in any real sense that many in this country do.

News is supposed to be objective, something it has been striding away from for some time now. News stories written based upon theory do not fit the definition of objective news reporting. It is high time that the news media be held to account for the thoughtless damage they do in instance like this. Not in any witchhunt type sense, but in the we live in the real world sense that the rest of us do - we don't inhabit their same bubble.

They need to get out more.

Taking a page from the Blue Star Chronicles, I offer the following links of a few bloggers discussing this fine line the Times feels comfortable balancing upon:

Blue Star Chronicles, Eternity Road, NeoCon Command Center, Opinionnation Times, Red Hot Cuppa Politics, and The Violence Worker


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