The Shame of the American Press

Former Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry happened to be in England during the bombings, and has posted several great entries to his blog on the subject. I found this one particularly interesting.

Last night we went to see the musical production of “Mary Poppins,” which is quite different from the movie, and astonishingly good. If this show gets to New York, it will be huge, one of those shows that runs forever.

The theater had been closed the night before because of the bombings, but last night the house was full. We stood for a minute of silence in honor of the bombing victims, and then the show, as shows must, went on.

The show goes on everywhere here: The underground is running again, and people are resuming their lives. I remain awed by how calmly Londoners have handled the terrorist attack. I believe that one reason for this is that the British TV news people have displayed less excitability and hysteria than American TV news people displayed in response to the Michael Jackson verdict.

Our TV reporters, and really most of the members of our press, have been such a disappointment during all the W years, starting with election night 2000. I grew up with Uncle Walter, then lived my idealistic years (my teens) when investigative reporting was considered a noble and valiant calling. Somewhere along the way Geraldo Rivera morphed into Geraldo, and CNN paved the way for Fox News.

Howard Troxler, in the St. Petersburg Times summed up the state of the press – and the government’s view of it – in America today, starting with a quote from the special prosecutor in the Miller/Cooper/Rove case:

“Journalists are not entitled to promise complete confidentiality – no one in America is.” – special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald

I have no doubt that Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who got an American newspaper reporter thrown in jail this week, truly believes that “no one in America” is entitled to keep anything secret from the government.

I do doubt, however, whether he understands the scope of the power that he has now claimed on behalf of the crown.

No one in America!

No one may refuse to answer when the all-powerful government demands it!

Does he mean it?

Does he mean that the government is entitled to force ministers to inform against sinners, doctors against patients, lawyers against clients, wives against husbands, children against parents?

No one in America.

On Jan. 16, 1787, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and future president, wrote a letter expressing his beliefs about a free press.

The only possible check on the abuse of government power, Jefferson wrote, is informed public opinion. But the citizens cannot stand up to the government unless they are armed with a free press. This led to Jefferson’s famous conclusion:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Of course, the person who blew Plame’s cover, Robert Novak, isn’t even being asked to reveal his source, let alone threatened with imprisonment. I have to wonder if it’s because Miller is so much more of a reliable martyr, as portrayed by James Wolcott in his stunningly fabulous and prescient book, “Attack Poodles.” Are they going after Judy because they know she will take that bullet, and ask for another, before giving them up for the petty, vindictive sleezes they are?

Although Troxler gives Miller the benefit of the doubt, he also puts the responsibility where it really belongs.

But this “crime,” if one exists at all, was committed by the government itself. The perverse claim here is that the government can commit an act, then “investigate” it, and jail reporters for not “cooperating.”

You think this is partisan? Go ahead. Feel free to believe that it’s okay under a Republican president to throw the New York Times in jail. Just be sure you’re comfortable with giving the same power to a future President Hillary Clinton, or whichever Democrat sneaks back into the White House first, over Fox News.

This is July, the month of Independence. This is not a month for kings.

No one in America, the king’s prosecutor now claims. But he is wrong.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.