The White House’s Public Enemy No.2? The Press

There have been a number of articles in recent weeks in The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as other newspapers, about how the Bush Administration may soon be focusing its attention on that other great scourge to American freedom — other than terrorists of course — journalists. Apparently the great defenders of freedom in the White House are still pretty upset about the disclosure a few months ago about the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping program to the public, so they're thinking about putting journalists in jail for writing such stories. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been quoted as endorsing the idea, citing anti-espionage laws from the early 20th Century.

It's a weak argument. The articles on the NSA program merely alerted the public that the government was potentially listening in on phone calls and other communications without a warrant — something the president had said wouldn't happen. The fact that the government was doing so without going before the FISA court was troubling to people across the political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. There was certainly nothing in even the most detailed of those articles that would have provided terrorists with information to thwart those efforts.

Since when has it been considered treason to question government action? When has it been considered espionage to convey the truth about what the government is doing, particularly when it is potentially intruding on the privacy of American citizens? This country was founded on the notion of freedom of the press, freedom from government interference and intrusion and protesting the actions of the government. I can't think of a more anti-American — or legally stupid — notion.

In response to things like the articles on the NSA program, the president and his cronies continue their mantra of "don't worry, be happy" (well, it goes something like that), where they suggest there's nothing to be concerned about, nothing to really debate, and we should just trust them to do the right thing. Sure. Kind of like stopping Saddam from unleashing all those WMDs in Iraq, right? I, and a lot of other Americans, fell for that once. Or twice. Or three times. All right, enough is enough.

But should anyone be surprised by this new genius theory, coming from an administration that has somehow managed to wrangle a legal no-man's land for terrorist fighters, where they are neither criminals nor enemy soldiers?

The intention of this talk is clear. It's aimed at intimidating the press. Silencing voices of opposition. This is an administration that has shown consistently, from the micro to the macro, that dissent will not be tolerated. They aren't secure enough to fight on the merits of their arguments, so they attack those who challenge them. It's been the game plan for tyrants throughout the ages.

And that's what this all reeks of — tyranny. Don't mistake me for some left-wing hippie wannabe. I'm a big fan of our military and I have no problem with the use of force. I've probably voted Republican more often than Democrat, and I couldn't be happier at the premise of destroying Al-Qaeda and killing its members. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. We cannot sacrifice our most sacred principles and ideas in the name of fighting a war. In reality, we don't have to. Competent leadership can always accomplish its goals without compromising its values. But maybe that last sentence says it all. 

What's especially ironic about all this is the Valerie Plame affair. Now, it's clearly against the law to reveal the identity of a CIA agent. And it's pretty clear someone in the Bush administration leaked her name to the press with intention of smearing her husband, Joseph Wilson, after he argued that some of the administration's claims about Iraq were a bunch of bunk. But the administration didn't look particularly hard into the source of that leak.

So let me get this straight. It's ok to reveal the names of CIA agents, provided they or someone close to them says something the government doesn't like, regardless of whether it puts that agent or those who have worked with them in physical danger. But if I write about a government program that arguably breaks the law — or worse, completely disregards it — I might be prosecuted for espionage. Does that make sense to anyone?

It's high time that the legal and journalistic communities work together and start asserting pressure on Congress. This threat being tossed around by Gonzalez should not be ignored. It should be met head on. There need to be extensive hearings on the NSA's program, the alleged cooperation by the phone companies, and the White House's threats with regard to the press. If necessary, legislation should be drawn up to address these issues.

If I can find any solace in any of this, it is this — the inability of the Bush administration to do anything other than divide America and tick off the rest of the world. Given how inept it has been, from the war on terror to Hurricane Katrina to the war in Iraq, I can only hope it brings the same level of stupidity, arrogance, and incompetence to its war on the First Amendment.

–Hank Grezlak, Editor-in-Chief

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