"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

As I Was Saying, [REDACTED]! 

Lots of First Amendment news today, so let's take a look at the state of free speech in our America.

But first, allow me to catch up with my e-mail. A reader; actually, a friend - okay, my cousin - sent me this story last week and I'm just now mentioning it:
Previously public intelligence documents, some more than 50 years old, have been sealed under a secret agreement between the National Archives and three federal agencies, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 2002 agreement, obtained by The Associated Press and released by archivists this week, shows the agency agreed to keep quiet about U.S. intelligence's role in the deal that shut off access to thousands of previously unclassified CIA and Pentagon documents.

The agreement, which the AP requested three years ago, shows archivists were concerned about reclassifying previously available documents but still agreed to keep mum about the arrangement.

The deal said the archives "will not acknowledge the role of (intelligence agencies) in the review of these documents or the withholding of any documents determined to need continued protection from unauthorized disclosure."

The agreement added that the archives "will not disclose the true reason for the presence of (intelligence) personnel at the archives, to include disclosure to persons within NARA who do not have a validated need-to-know."

This is amazing, when you think about it. Information - some of it going back more than two generations - which previously was freely available is retreating into the vaults. It is hard to imagine a more striking real world example of Orwell's Ministry of Truth, in which inconvenient facts are swept away, denied, in the interest of alleged national security. Of course, this story makes sense only if one presupposes that national security is served not by the dissemination of information, but by its suppression. And indeed, there is an argument that this is true - it just so happens that such an argument is the opposite of that which underlies our First Amendment.

It is the same argument which prompts a respected, mainstream conservative commentator to suggest that several of this year's Pulitzer Prize winners should be prosecuted:
Bill Bennett's radio rant (audio here) is highly worth listening to in order to smell the destination to which our country has descended in five short years. Does this sound anything like the United States to you? Speaking of Risen and Lichtblau (and Dana Priest), Bennett said that they:

took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others, that they not release it -- they not only released it, they publicized it -- they put it on the front page, and it damaged us, it hurt us.

How do we know it damaged us? Well, it revealed the existence of the surveillance program -- so people are going to stop making calls -- since they are now aware of this -- they're going to adjust their behavior...

Are they punished, are they in shame, are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer Prizes -- they win Pulitzer Prizes -- I don't think what they did was worthy of an award -- I think what they did was worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward...

But these people who reveal our secrets, who hurt our war efforts... who hurt the efforts of the President's people . . . they shouldn't be given prizes and awards for this, they shouldn't be given prizes and awards for this, they should be looked into... the Espionage Act, investigation of these leaks, I'm telling you, I'm hot...


They published this story "against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president." What journalists would dare defy the wishes of the president? And in America, no less. And now, The Terrorists know that we are trying to eavesdrop on them, because they never knew that before. And these reporters therefore belong in prison.

Of course, this is not the first time that reporters have run afoul of claimed executive power. For decades, muckraker Jack Anderson exposed government wrongdoing at the highest levels, a career which earned him the wrath of the Nixon administration (until now, the gold standard in executive overreaching). Nixon and his henchment hounded Anderson unmercifully - there was, apparently, semi-serious consideration given to having him killed - but one would hope that Anderson had escaped that kind of harrassment upon his recent death. Alas, it appears not:
During his life and career as a muckraking journalist in Washington, Jack Anderson cultivated secret sources throughout the halls of government -- sources who passed on information that allowed Anderson to investigate and write about Watergate, CIA assassination schemes, and countless scandals. His syndicated column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, earned him the enmity of the corrupt and powerful -- so much so that during the Watergate years, associates of Nixon had discussed assassinating the columnist. They never went through with the plot. Anderson died last December at the age of 83.

His archive, some 200 boxes now being held by George Washington University's library, could be a trove of information about state secrets, dirty dealings, political maneuverings, and old-fashioned investigative journalism, open for historians and up-and-coming reporters to see.

But the government wants to see the documents before anyone else.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have told university officials and members of the Anderson family that they want to go through the archive, and that agents will remove any item they deem confidential or top secret.

The Andersons, who have not yet transferred ownership of the archive to George Washington University, are outraged. They plan to fight the FBI's request.

Once again, Orwell's "memory hole" demands to be fed.

These events would be chilling enough, if only the hostility to free speech and the wide dissemination of information was applied in an even-handed, content-neutral way. Of course, it is not. Consider two stories from Florida - first this:
A federal judge has ruled that a city law imposing a buffer zone on abortion protesters violates free-speech rights and has ordered the city not to enforce it.

The law — enacted in October after someone set fire to the Presidential Women's Center, the last clinic in Palm Beach County where abortions are done — created a 20-foot buffer around entrances and other public areas outside health-care facilities.

U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks ruled that the city didn't prove the existence of problems that it said the law addressed: restricted patient access and a threat to public safety. Even if it had, the law is too strict, he ruled.

"Freedom of speech is rarely an issue when everyone agrees," Middlebrooks wrote. "Perhaps more than at any other place and any other time, in cases such as this, speech guaranteed by the First Amendment must be protected."

And then, this:
Lee County commissioners are expected today to discuss whether to make organizers of last week's protest march pay for additional costs the county incurred....

More than 75,000 people marched on downtown Fort Myers to protest proposed immigration reform measures in Congress — the largest public rally in Lee County history.

The county's attorney sent a letter to the organizers of the march before the event stating that they may have to pay for some expenses associated with the march.

The county manager's office is still tabulating the costs, but officials have said that the total could reach $500,000.

As it happens, I am somewhat sympathetic to the position taken by the abortion clinic protesters in the pending case. I am not the least bit sympathetic to their broader goals - it will surprise no one, I'm sure, to learn that I am staunchly pro-choice - but with respect to the discrete issue of protesting, I am on their side here. I look at it this way - suppose I had bothered to drive the 25 miles or so north to Everett, Washington, where the Vice President appeared this week, to express my disgust with the kind of man who thinks nothing of getting drunk and shooting someone in the face (or, for that matter, of invading a sovereign nation on the basis of a web of lies). I cannot maintain that I have a right to have my outrage heard and yet deny the same right to a pack of rabid Jesus freaks in West Palm Beach simply because I disagree with their message.

But - if abortion protesters are free to be heard at the clinic door, then surely the Lee County protesters are entitled to the same right, and without the onerous penalty of being billed for their trouble. I notice that no one is suggesting that the West Palm Beach nutbars be billed for the cost of a burned-out clinic, and unless and until these particular individuals can be shown responsible for that crime, it is proper that they not be billed - or in any other official way penalized for their beliefs.

The problem is that free speech must be a two-way street, or it does not exist at all. Bill Bennett (who, as Atrios notes, is a paid commentator for that exemplar of the so-called liberal media, CNN) has a constitutional right to call for the arrest of his fellow journalists, I suppose, but likewise those of us who are revolted by his hypocrisy have the right to call for his dismissal. This year's Pulitzer winners, like Jack Anderson before them, do us all a great service by exposing the putrid reality of government misfeasance to the disinfecting power of daylight. That is the value of free speech, and the prime guarantor of our real national security.

 

Comments:

 

Trying to do my part to protect the First Amendment from right-wing corporate shills who try to keep cameras out of courtrooms:

http://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2006/04/naacp-trial-charlie-bauer-orr-reno-get.html

I slammed this guy but good; wait until you see the other stupid things he said:

http://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2006/04/naacp-trial-importance-of-shaking.html

Here is your background:

http://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2006/03/why-progressive-black-man-fears-new.html
 
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