Monday, July 03, 2006

Open Letter to Congress: Prosecute the NYTimes

Dear Esteemed Members of the House and Senate,

It is with a heavy heart that I write to implore you to take up the task of prosecuting The New York Times for its spate of recent decisions that can only be called unpatriotic, unprofessional, and even unAmerican. It's been clear for quite some time now that the News department of the Paper of Record has a curious, if not skewed, agenda, and it's leading to a very dangerous erosion of the our nation's ability to protect our most cherished ideals.

As you're well aware, the straw that has broken the camel's back in this matter is the story about international financial monitoring (the "SWIFT" story). Not the actual reporting of the story, mind you. The Editors of the paper were clearly right that it was newsworthy and important to report on it.

No, the offense worth prosecuting here is the way in which the paper has not only scampered away from the administration's full-on assualt, like some cur with its tail between its legs, but also how it's actively participating in the administration's clearly politcal ploy to distract the public's attention away from their proven inability to run the government. Letting them change the subject in this calculated and cynical way is a direct dereliction of the role of the press in maintaining a system of checks and balances. It's not at all how the Founding Fathers intended the nation to move forward. By not standing up to the administration, forcefully, they've served to lower the standards across the country, potentially handicapping the journalists who would otherwise continue to rightly scrutinize the administration's doings. In that way, their actions are unAmerican and dangerous.

So I call on Congress to save the nation and prosecute the Times, hell, prosecute all the media, repeatedly if necessary, until they grow a spine. Currently, they're letting their nation down.

Just look at the SWIFT story for an illustration of how.

This was a detailed article about a secret program (but with no technical details, only questions about its legal basis and the issues of oversight), but no one who's been paying any attention at all (least of all international terrrorists) was even remotely surprised to read that such a program existed (most of the details were already outlined in a publically available UN report). For the administration to suggest the story exposed secrets that compromise our national security is laughable (why didn't they demonize the UN report? why aren't they demonizing Ron Suskind, whose recent book indicates clearly that terrorists knew to avoid international banking exchanges already?).

Getting the story right was important as a matter of public record, but more than that, it's one part of a much bigger story (the one the Administration is truly concerned with here) about the Executive branch's egregious and continuous overreach and power grab.

As Senator Feinstein noted Sunday on "This Week," the full Senate's Intelligence Committe was only briefed on this program AFTER it became apparent that the papers were going to run the story. So at the very least, the decision forced the administration to do what it should have done years ago with regards to appropriate oversight.

So I ask you, members of Congress: Had the story never run, would the Administration have ever briefed you? How many other such secret programs (think wiretapping, if you just can't imagine) should you be briefed on that you haven't that this story will give the administration cause to rethink?

With the evidence so strongly indicating that the Times' decision was not only NOT harmful to national security (the program continues unhindered, it's clear) but was actually effective in ensuring the nation's checks and balances continue to function as they should, how can you, Members of Congress, stand there and watch as the Times rolls over in this battle of resolve with the White House? Rove fed the three most powerful men in the world mouthfuls of vitriol to spew at the Times (yes, scapegoating them specifically in order to focus the attack, despite the fact that the story was also run by the LA Times and The Wall Street Journal, which now stands as perhaps the first paper in history to run an editorial criticizing another paper for running the same news story it ran itself...can you say delusional schizophrenia?), and the Times has more or less whimpered its response. Worse yet, they've willingly participated in letting the story become about them rather than the continual evolution of the United States into a monarchy.

Prosecute the Times. Use whatever laws there on are the books to force them to grow a pair (nevermind The Wall Street Journal, they seem to have a few mental health issues to attend to before they'll be an effective member of the system). This adminstration has demonstrated again and again that it feels checks and balances are an unnecessary nuisance. They've demonstrated they have no respect for the press. So they've earned no respect in return. We the people have grown weary of waiting for you members of Congress to stop campaigning long enough to actually serve as a check of executive power, but there still remains a chance that the press can come through and save our Constitutional Democracy before Bush manages to unhinge it altogether. So I urge you to use your prosecutorial powers to nudge them along.

Someone needs to stand up to this monsterous machine in the White House. Since you're too concerned about the next election to do it, please push the press to save our democracy. Seriously, it's being dismantled right under your noses.

Your fellow American,

PS. I urge everyone to read this take on the matter in Media Matters (merci Ondine). Here's the money quote:

There is a reason the Founders singled out the press for special protection when they wrote the Bill of Rights. It was because they understood that without an independent, free, aggressive, courageous press, democracy itself is impossible. When the government decides who gets to report the news and what they get to say, we no longer live in a free society. When journalists live under threat of prosecution and even violence, we cease to be citizens and become only subjects.

The right has kept the media under constant assault for decades, and the response from the media has been to bend over backward to prove they aren't biased -- by being harder on Democrats. They should have learned long ago that the "liberal bias" charge has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the news. It is a political strategy, a way of "working the ref" and providing easy excuses for public rejection of the right's goals. But what we have seen this week is something qualitatively different.

Given the constant drumbeat of criticism directed at the media from conservatives, it might be easy to dismiss this latest expulsion of bile as just more of the same. But it's worth stepping back to take a look at exactly what has occurred over the past week. Members of Congress have suggested revoking the Capitol Hill credentials of journalists, so that only news organizations that do not displease the ruling party may be permitted to report from Congress. Other members have accused members of the media of "treason" and advocated their prosecution. A conservative television and radio personality suggested that the government establish an Office of Censorship to screen the news. Another said, "I would have no problem with [New York Times editor Bill Keller] being sent to the gas chamber." The House of Representatives passed a resolution saying it "expects the cooperation of all news media organizations."

In short, the right assembled a posse this week -- vigilantes stalking television studios, radio airwaves, print, and the Internet, their apparent goal to revoke the First Amendment.

Bear in mind that these extreme measures are being proposed in response to an article that has caused no provable harm to the US's efforts against terrorists and was predominantly a reworking of information already pubically available. That tells me this isn't really about the SWIFT story, it's about the 2006 elections. The GOP can't get much more mileage out of gays or flag burners between now and November, so they're re-attacking another favorite scapegoat. What's nearly as repugnant as the proposed ideas is how little respect the Republican-controlled media has for its own profession. We need a new word for "whore" to do them justice.


Blogger ondine-nyc said...

You said a mouthful Edward.

Until our press acts like the checks and balances it should be (and Congress, are you listening too) we will be held hostage by the executive branch and their main ally, our corporate owned media and our corporate advertisers.

It's time for them to be put in their proper place as the Founding Fathers would want.

7/03/2006 11:28:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

When I am accused of being a "liberal", I recoil in horror, state emphatically that I am not and then announce that I am actually a socialist. Throws 'em every time.

Maybe the NYTimes should consider adopting this strategy.

7/03/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Rebel Belle said...

You go Bubba !! Lynch Bill Keller! How dare he assault us by an utterly and completely ungodless conspiracy to confuse us with the truth! We know better. We trust our gut instincts, and that means no big words to deter us from our path of righteousness!! The New York Times? A mouthpiece for a certain ethnic group that has big ties to international banking. How do you think they got the inside story on all that financial stuff?

Let's trust Bush. God is speaking to him personally.

7/03/2006 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's trust Bush. God is speaking to him personally.

Yes, but he's speaking in tongues and all it's doing is tickling his ear.

7/03/2006 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/03/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous danonymous said...

NPR radio (wNYC) talked this weekend about when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office, there was a lot of behind the scenes pushing for him to become a benevolent dictator in order to get the US out of the Depression Era. The thing that most stopped this movement for dictatorship, was the appearance of Adolf Hitler in Europe as a true dictator. Otherwise, who knows where we would be today politically.
As comfortable as we have gotten in past decades with the idea of democracy and liberty, etc. we are only a step away from the evil abyss. Bush and his like, and the corporations that benefit from his positions, are the edge of that abyss.

7/03/2006 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Ed!


7/03/2006 07:06:00 PM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

has made it clear ... he would like his brother to move onto the national stage.
Oh lord help us. I thought his father was awful and this man makes me shake in fear. The checks and balances are in the hands of the voters this mid-term election. We have to take back congress. The only thin the NYT can really do is report. the rest is up to us.

7/04/2006 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I urge you to submit your comments to A larger audience would appreciate your thoughtful observations re: the sad state of our press and government.

7/04/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent post.

7/04/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Jenny Walty said...

Thank you!

I have had not one iota of patience for the Times since 2000, they have abdicated so much responsibility over the last 6 years it makes my stomach turn to think of what can be laid at their door (Niger yellow-cake anyone?). This most recent turn-coat behavior seems typical to me and in some ways no big surprise.

I understand how hard it must be to run a news empire in this day and age, but "The Old Gray Lady" is not living up to her fond moniker. Grannies have more spunk to tell the truth these days than "the Paper of Record."

I've long since been getting my information from more trusted sources.

7/05/2006 01:06:00 AM  
Anonymous joy said...

I'm a pinko actually. Now I am anyways.


7/05/2006 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger serena said...

This is one of the most awesome posts I've read in a long time. Why is nearly every citizen of this country, including members of Congress, seemingly allergic to personal responsibility? Is it our school system, or just progressive cowardice? At this point, we're starting to deserve the rise of fascism in our government.

7/06/2006 02:43:00 PM  

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