Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The attack on America's free press

Not too long ago, I wrote about what I consider to be the shame of America's free press, that is, the mainstream news media's gullibility with respect to the White House's preferred spin and their refusal, or inability, to do their jobs properly:

Forget the liberal press. The accurate adjective is gullible. It wants a story, any story, preferably a new story. Apparently, the story of Bush's demise and Republican collapse is old. Apparently, the White House got out the spin and the spin is preferable to the truth. Much easier to regurgitate "happy talk" than to do the hard journalistic work of investigation and analysis. Much easier to let yourself be manipulated by the powers-that-be than to do your job properly and effectively.

For more, see here (with a follow-up here).

But let me make one thing abundantly clear: The shame of America's free press has been eclipsed by, and is far less troubling than, the attack on that same free press by the White House, Republicans, and conservatives generally. These attackers of the free press don't want a free press at all. They want a loyal press, a press that regurgitates the latest right-wing talking points, a press that amounts to little more than a purveyor of propaganda. In short, they want, as I've said before, Pravda. Fox News, of course, is already America's Pravda, or, more specifically, the White House's Pravda, and the Republican Congress's Pravda. The conservative movement has a few Pravda-like organs, spreading the preferred spin around to such partisan, party-line-toeing outlets as Fox News, The Weekly Standard, and National Review.

As you may know, much of the White House's anti-press bile is currently being hurled at The New York Times. According to the Times itself:

President Bush on Monday condemned as "disgraceful" the disclosure last week by The New York Times and other newspapers of a secret program to investigate and track terrorists that relies on a vast international database that includes Americans' banking transactions.

It doesn't much matter, in this regard, that "Congress was briefed," as Bush put it. The Times reported on the story of secret financial tracking and should not be criticized for doing its job. Democratic leaders like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid have been briefed on the program, but, as Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) put it, "There are very serious constitutional and legal questions that have been raised, and they're being obscured by this almost ad hominem attack on The New York Times".

Republicans and conservatives aren't content to defend a program that may or may not be defensible. They want to attack the opposition, and this now gives them an opportunity to attack the free press, a press that freely reported on a story that puts the White House on the defensive. (The Bush White House's m.o., right from the start, has been to do things in secret, secret even from Congress and especially from Democrats, and then to go after anyone who unveils those secrets.) Along this line, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has "called on the attorney general to investigate whether The Times's decision to publish the article violated the Espionage Act" and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow has, according to Editor & Publisher, singled out the Times for special criticism.

For more, see BooMan, Think Progress, and Greg Sargent at HuffPo.

And, for a must-read, see this exceptional post by Glenn Greenwald:

Any doubts about whether the Bush administration intends to imprison unfriendly journalists (defined as "journalists who fail to obey the Bush administration's orders about what to publish") were completely dispelled this weekend. As I have noted many times before, one of the most significant dangers our country faces is the all-out war now being waged on our nation's media -- and thereby on the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press -- by the Bush administration and its supporters, who are furious that the media continues to expose controversial government policies and thereby subject them to democratic debate. After the unlimited outpouring of venomous attacks on the Times this weekend, I believe these attacks on our free press have become the country's most pressing political issue.

Documenting the violent rhetoric and truly extremist calls for imprisonment against the Times is unnecessary for anyone paying even minimal attention the last few days. On every cable news show, pundits and even journalists talked openly about whether the editors and reporters of the Times were traitors deserving criminal punishment. The Weekly Standard, always a bellwether of Bush administration thinking, is now actively crusading for criminal prosecution against the Times. And dark insinuations that the Times ought to be physically attacked are no longer the exclusive province of best-selling right-wing author Ann Coulter, but -- as Hume's Ghost recently documented -- are now commonly expressed sentiments among all sorts of "mainstream" Bush supporters. Bush supporters are now engaged in all-out, unlimited warfare against journalists who are hostile to the administration and who fail to adhere to the orders of the Commander-in-Chief about what to print.

The clear rationale underlying the arguments of Bush supporters needs to be highlighted. They believe that the Bush administration ought to be allowed to act in complete secrecy, with no oversight of any kind. George Bush is Good and the administration wants nothing other than to stop The Terrorists from killing us. There is no need for oversight over what they are doing because we can trust our political officials to do good on their own. We don't need any courts or any Congress or any media serving as a "watchdog" over the Bush administration. There is no reason to distrust what they do. We should -- and must -- let them act in total secrecy for our own good, for our protection. And anyone who prevents them from acting in total secrecy is not merely an enemy of the Bush administration, but of the United States, i.e., is a traitor.

It has come to this. The First Amendment is under attack. The very concept of a free press is under attack. The press may not always do its job properly, but, above all, it must be free to do its job. The White House, the Republican Congress, and the conservative organs that support them simply do not want to live in such a free society, a society with a press that is free to criticize them. However much they may talk the talk of freedom and democracy, their vision for America includes, it seems, one-party rule, a press that acts as that party's mouthpiece, and an ignorant citizenry that doesn't know the difference between truth and spin.

Where's George Orwell when you need him?

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home