To hear the conservative bloggers and pundits, The New York Times
has "yet again" committed treason through its recent story about the US monitoring international banking data to find terrorism links. Ropes in hand, the lynch mob is ready to hang the First Amendment over the revelations in this NY Times Banking Story.
Part of the reason these "19 low-tech assholes" (credit to my friend Jack Petche for that phrase) were able to do so much damage stems from our consistent practice of underestimating our enemies. Say what you will about the deluded ideology of Al Qaeda and their ilk, but these people are crazy, not stupid. Assuming that they don't already know we're listening in to their phone calls or examining their banking records is both crazy and stupid. We're dealing with a group of operatives originally trained by the CIA for Christ's sake! That's one of many reasons those evil bastards are so dangerous. Castigating the media for revealing that we are using common sense tactics, like wiretapping and following money trails, against them is a waste of time at best, and dangerous.
I also question why every failure of the Bush administration is supposed to be the media's fault. Someone had to leak this to the media in the first place, likely officials in the Bush administration, but the media gets crucified time and again for reporting what is in the public interest, especially using anonymous sources. Yet this administration communicates largely through officials who speak, "only on condition of anonymity."
I, for one, am glad that the New York Times
, reported the domestic eavesdropping story and don't think Lichtbau and Risen should be given blindfolds and cigarettes every time they write an article this administration doesn't like. I don't think this current financial records story is the cruel blow to the War on Terror we're being told it is.
The Bush administration came into office with the mentality that the very concept of a free press should be treated with disdain, and that attitude has only grown worse since 9/11. The press is not meant to operate merely as the PR arm of the White House or the Republican party... that's why they have FOX News. I'm so tired of the rhetoric that spews forth every time the media reports something this administration thinks should be kept secret, like, you know, almost everything (Cheney's energy task force meeting comes to mind...).
There is no America-hating agenda in the press, and this new story is not the moral equivalent of telling the Germans in World War II that we'd decrypted the Enigma ciphers. Yes, there are occasionally irresponsible members of the media out there, just as there are irresponsible members of our government. But, there is no vast conspiracy in the media to undermine America, and I'm sick of being told to think that by people who complain about the media "telling us what to think."
I have a hypothesis, based on nothing more than gut feeling and my observations on how this administration operates, that this story was leaked on purpose. I think that this administration, in its continuing quest for more power, hopes to undermine the media through this story. Their efforts to prosecute journalists under the Espionage Act will certainly receive a boost now that the "America-hating NY Times" has "undercut" an essential and "pretty solidly legal" (am I the only one depressed that we're to the point where that needs to be added as a qualifier?)
program to fight terrorists, instead of one of highly dubious legality like warrantless wiretaps.
The stories about possible torture in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, the wiretapping story, etc. have all met with the "treasonous media" lynch mob before, but this story might just piss off enough people to give the administration leeway to start prosecuting (Very public hearings coming soon to TV. I propose a drinking game where you take a shot every time a Republican says "treason," "9/11," "America-hating," "putting Americans and our troops in danger," or "emboldening our enemies."). Look for the Republicans to further stoke the fires of outrage about this one and try to pass some kind of law to "protect Americans" from the trecherous media. They will almost undoubtedly "Swift Boat" the press to score political points with their base. This will dominate the coverage before the mid-terms, and perhaps only The Onion
, "The Daily Show," and "The Colbert Report" will notice the irony of televised public hearings repeatedly chiding the media for revealing this super-secret program that is "crucial to the War on Terror."
The media cannot properly operate as the fourth estate of government when it is only permitted to report government-sanctioned "leaks" and official spin. The concept of an informed public is so anethema to this administration that they would gladly reduce the media to glorified gossip columnists. They refuse to be accountable for their actions, wage wars of disinformation through competing backdoor "leaks," and treat the media as a punching bag; but they don't understand why that same media isn't happy with staged photo-ops and tired talking points. We have a President who says with pride that he doesn't read the newspaper, and tells reporters to their faces that they annoy him! I might also mention that this administration actually bombed a foreign news organization, Al-Jazeera. That same administration had previously praised Al-Jazeera's reporting when it was directed at other countries.
I cannot and will not buy into the argument that any government, especially this government, should be easily able to tell the press what the public is "allowed to know." The logical extension of this argument ends in the government telling the public what they can and can't say. Open critique and criticism of our government and its actions are part and parcel of ensuring that we still live in a democratic country. It is the nature of government to seek to consolidate power and to seek to stifle dissent. If we allow our government to set the terms of acceptable discussion over here, what the hell would we be fighting "to protect" over there?