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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Response to Glenn Greenwald 

Note: This is crossposted from VC in case the opening doesn't quite scan over here. Also please note this is a bit of a work in progress as I was short on time today.

Screwy Hoolie, a liberal reader of TigerHawk's with whom I occasionally enjoy sparring, invited me to read a post arguing the other side of the NYT classified information brouhaha. While a point-by-point refutation of Glenn's lengthy post would take longer than I arguably have left to live, I'd like to respond to a few of Glenn's assertions:

1. "...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..."

GLENN: 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.


First to the specifics of Glenn's argument:

a) Any doubt Bush intends to throw 'unfriendly journalists' in jail was completely dispelled? By what? Has the Justice Department filed charges? Have Times employees been carted off to airless cells in Gitmo to face the horror of genital mocking? Has the administration announced an intent to prosecute?

No. Bush did express an opinion, which you may read here. Jail is not mentioned. Neither is prosecution, but Bush did term the disclosure 'disgraceful'. Apparently in Glenn's bizarre world, this constitutes intent to prosecute.

Glenn's accusation is just plain dishonest. He provides no factual evidence to support his charge (at least that I'm aware of). Moreover, he doesn't bother to link to Bush's actual statements so we can evaluate them for ourselves. But hey - who needs facts? Just trust him.

By clever sleight of hand, he then places the words of Rep. King into the President's mouth. Ostensibly, Republicans are rather like the Borg - a mindless collective whose individual units cannot operate independently of the Great Hive Mind, formerly known as The Shrub. But this is misleading and unfair. There is a critical element in "Speaking Truth to Power"; it helps an awful lot if what you say is, in fact, true. One paragraph into his post, Greenwald has already seriously damaged his own credibility. This is hardly calculated to engender trust in his subsequent statements.

b) Unwarranted assertions aside, there are a few problems with his main thesis too. What Glenn conveniently glosses over (hoping you won't notice the omission amid the hyperbole and arm-waving) is that, if the Right's allegations are true, the NY Times' publication of classified information constitutes a violation of laws passed by our elected representatives. Therefore, his dishonest characterization of Keller's actions as merely "exposing controversial government policies and thereby subject[ing] them to democratic debate" is flawed. It assumes two legal rights the Times does not, according to our elected representatives and SCOTUS, possess: the right to expose classified information and journalistic privilege (a special protected status that allows them to avoid the same duties ordinary citizens have to cooperate with investigations).

If you want to argue (as he does later) that the Times didn't actually expose any secrets, that is a separate question which may be settled by examining the facts. And where do we examine facts when a crime has been alleged? In a court of law. To imply the Executive Branch has no right to enforce the law or classify information, as Glenn has, is a stunning assertion he doesn't trouble to support.

One can argue this information shouldn't be classified at all. But that is really a moot point, because it is. Neither the general public nor the media possess statutory authority to selectively declassify information. Period.

Continue reading...

4 Comments:

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Wed Jun 28, 10:47:00 PM:

The reasoning is, if Bush wants it kept secret, it could only be for self-serving reasons, so newspapers have to expose it.

Wait, that doesn't make any sense. Let me try again:

George Bush accused us of something. Therefore it can't be true.

That's right, isn't it? Except it doesn't look right on the page somehow. One more try.

We're the New York Times, and he's only George Bush. Therefore the information didn't need to be secret.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Thu Jun 29, 08:21:00 AM:

"If you want to argue (as he does later) that the Times didn't actually expose any secrets, that is a separate question which may be settled by examining the facts. And where do we examine facts when a crime has been alleged? In a court of law."

First let me say thanks again for the mention and the link. Secondly, Greenwald does too much "arm-waving" here to be sure.

However, back to the merits - The facts are what I thought this was all about. If the NYT didn't publish anything new (evidently the SWIFT program and some affiliates have had a detailed website up for years), then the complaint is simply that they drew attention to something already in the public sphere.

I sure hope that's not treasonous, or we're both in trouble, Cass. 8-)

[--------

And, a.v.i., it's about the Freedom of the Press. It's about where one draws the line between total freedom of the press and total right to secrecy for the government. Et vous?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Jun 29, 12:00:00 PM:

"And, a.v.i., it's about the Freedom of the Press. It's about where one draws the line between total freedom of the press and total right to secrecy for the government. Et vous?"

The line is already drawn in the form of legislation making the act of revealing classified defense information a crime. At this point, it's a question of attempting to enforce that.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Jun 29, 12:27:00 PM:

I don't know Screwy.

I thought about this an awful lot. I think it's about both the facts and the law, as most cases are.

People always want to assume these things are just cut and dried, but they rarely are. If you're a conservative, that's an argument for obeying the law. I suppose if you're a liberal it's an excuse for breaking it (after all, some clever lawyer will find a loophole in a badly-written law and get you off in court). This, in a nutshell, is why I am not an attorney, though by rights that is probably what I'm best suited for by talent and inclination.

I didn't make this argument because I simply didn't have time, but Patterico does a great job of arguing that there is a tremendous difference between saying "there's going to be an attack on Friday" and "there's going to be an attack at precisely 3 pm Friday using 3rd LAV 15 miles from Fallujah", or whatever. Awareness of what does not convey awareness of how to evade.

The examples Glenn provided were really far from compelling, but I didn't have time to wade into his links (especially the pdf). And besides, you'd have to know where to look for that pdf, wouldn't you, instead of just being able to pull up the front page of the NYT and having it delivered to your doorstep.

That's the critical difference. And it could well cost lives.

However, I admit (and I don't think this has been established) that if *all* the details have been published, it would be hard for the govt. to argue the Times released secrets, unless the pdf itself was unauthorized. But again, if as Glenn says, this is all "common knowledge" then why the heck didn't the Times just use the public domain info as a reference?

The answer is very likely:

a) the public domain info wasn't as complete

b) the public domain info wasn't widely known (in which case the "terrorists knew about it" argument fails)

c) they wanted to assert the right to use a leaker

And all of this still doesn't answer my central question: WHY THE HELL DIDN'T KELLER GIVE THIS INFO TO THE HOUSE COMMITTEE AS THE LAW REQUIRES?

If he says he doesn't "trust" Congress to do its job, then isn't he doing exactly the same thing y'all accuse Bush of doing?

Hmmm....  

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