I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say on the New York Times vs. George Bush debate… you know… the one where the New York Times, through its investigative reporting of government spying programs, is reportedly “giving comfort to our enemies.”
Neither fool, nor sloth, nor slowness of wit will keep me from my appointed rounds. I will expatiate on my opinion; no matter how common it may be, no matter how disinterested you may be. (I should really go into marketing.)
On the one hand, I agree the press does not have a blank check to report on classified programs of the U.S. Government. In theory, I agree that such reporting could cause the U.S. government, and by extension: many of us, considerable danger. HOWEVER, the press also serves a vital role in our society. How exactly is the government going to be held accountable if/when it goes too far? What other mechanism is in place to protect us when the government breaks it’s contract with us… the “We the people” in that little thing we like to refer to as “The Constitution.” Good luck with that… there aren’t many. We are the aggrieved party, so maybe we could sue… but how? In many cases legislative or executive excesses are reigned in by the courts. But by the current programs’ nature, these are secret. How would we know to sue? How would we know our rights are being reaped and sold like wheat at harvest? How would the case come to the court’s attention if know one knows enough to bring it before the court? Answer: it probably won’t.
“Oh, I know… if the information is ever used against us in a criminal prosecution we’d learn of the source when it’s presented in court, and then we could challenge it.” Wrong again. Secrets don’t remain secret by announcing them in open court. “Yeah, but I don’t plan on breaking any laws. Aren’t the criminals the only one’s who should be afraid of these programs?” I’m not so confident. Funny things happen when people become afraid. Just ask a Japanese American who was around in the ’40s, or any number of innocent victims of Joseph McCarthy. Fear has a way of making lots of things look suspicious. During our lives we each potentially produce a treasure trove of information. Imagine the government collecting it all: a lifetime’s worth of phone, bank, library, video rental, and credit card records; ready to be rearranged in the most nefarious light at a moment’s notice… when the next crisis hits. I hear Cuba is lovely this time of year.
Now ask yourself how much danger your government could pose to you; surely not as much as a terrorist, right? Just don’t ask a Native American… assuming you can still find one.
Because public revelations can have serious consequences, the press has a huge responsibility to be diligent, careful. The question is, have they exercised sufficient restraint? It’s been a huge controversy. Legal experts have been divided on the constitutionality of the administration’s actions. This is why I think the Times was justified. In my mind, there has been some question whether the administration’s actions were legal. If there wasn’t, there would be no debate – certainly not one so fierce. It’s precisely because there IS question as to the legality of the government’s actions that it should be reported. This is where the press becomes not only justified, but vital. Unchecked government power could become just as big a threat to liberty as a terrorist, and we need the press to help protect us. The cherry on top was this week’s Supreme Court decision. Say what you will about the court, but it’s the final word on the Constitution… not the Times or the President. As I understand it (and have read elsewhere), the court’s ruling doesn’t just affect military commissions for enemy combatants in Cuba… but some of the underlying, constitutional authority the president has claimed for himself to act as he has. That in itself is a whole heaping helping of after the fact justification for the Times.
We have laws which protect “whistle-blowers” who uncover illegal activity. How about a maintaining little protection for the whistle?
Here’s a rallying cry for the new election year: “Remember the Watergate!”