Open Letter to Congress: Prosecute the NYTimes
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:
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.
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.