Monday, May 21, 2007

Freedom of the press: A casuality of war

A little while ago, the Hippie Conservative wrote a series of great pieces (here, here, and here) about the role of the government and media when it comes to disseminating information to the masses. Though I agreed with every aspect of these observations (which is starting to happen a lot more often lately. Am I becoming HC, Jr.?!), I still find myself increasing frustrated at the extent to which agents in the government and the media have highjacked our understanding of the world's issues.

Ostensibly, journalists have an obligation to uncover and report the truths and -- most importantly -- to do so without bias or apprehension. Doing so leads the rest of us to make informed decisions about our day-to-day activities; particularly related to our response to our elected officials. But what I''ve started to notice lately is that when it comes to reporting; especially with the so-called "War on Terrorism", the hurdles that journalists face not only impact our ability to know what our elected officials are doing on behalf of all of us, but these obstacles also establish a pattern that should make anybody who is committed to democracy shake in their books.

Just the other night in class, for example we watched a powerful, but unnerving documentary that pinpoints the process by which the lives and activities of millions of normal citizens are being closely monitored by the government in a pre-emptive effort to alleviate possible terrorist threats. It's frightening to think that this type of intrusion by the government is allowed to be implemented; though it clearly annuls the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the ultra-scary USA PATRIOT Act allows for a gag orders to be placed on the person being violated if a special subpoena known as a National Sercuity Letter is utilized to obtain the information. Let me put this another way: The government can essentially dredge into our personal lives without our knowledge or consent and is not required to provide justification for doing so. Furthermore, if we are ordered to relinquish personal information to the government, we're not at liberty to tell other people about it.

Not only are we not allowed to know what the government is doing with our personal information, we are often left in the dark about what they can (and actually do) to those who are committed to reporting the truth. I was shocked to hear that in the UK last week, two reporters were imprisoned for divulging a confidential memorandum (the infamous 10 Downing Street memo) which detailed a 2004 exchange between Pres. Bush and former British PM Blair; where Bush reportedly suggested stricking Qatar; where the Al Jazeera Network is located; because of how the station's coverage of the war could possibly cause major impediments to the public perception about what's actually going on in Iraq. Though the specific contents and tone of the memo have been argued (folks in the Bush Administration say Bush was only joking. Of course we'll never know since the documents have been sealed), the end result of the memo could have easily led to dire international consequences. Not only has Qatar been an outsider in the Middle Eastern conflict in which we're currently engaged, but they have actually allowed for many progressive movements (both in the media and in government) that are close being held in the same regard as the West. Some would make the argument that this is exactly why this type of information should not be leaked; so as to avoid causing an international incident. I say this whistleblowing needs to happen so we can bring our leaders to bear on the actions they take; which could ultimately put us all in a terrible bind.

In another case, I was pretty suprised to hear during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, snippets of a report where Alberto Gonzales had his hand caught in the cookie jar, though much of the media was blind to it in their reporting. Gonzales (who was the White House counsel at the time) and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card essentially tag-teamed against former Attorney General John Ashcroft while he was hospitalized in an effort to get him to approve wiretaps from the NSA. Interestingly, Ashcroft was against it (who would've thought that...?). It was only after I watched an hour of C-SPAN coverage that I found that out. To my knowledge, nothing was reported about this on CNN, MSNBC, or -- no suprise here -- Fox News. Who at these networks would want to potentially damage their reputation by stepping up and uncovering this news?

Speaking of ruining repuations, I would be remissed if I didn't mention the notorious Valerie Plame affair. In an attempt to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson (after he refuted the Bush Adminstration's reports of Iraqi yellowcake uranium purchases from Niger), top White Officials leaked the identity of Wilson's wife; a then CIA-operative. In doing so, they not only jeopardized her life, but the lives of all of her international contacts and the hoards of anti-terrorist intel she accumulated during her tenure. This was a clear indication that openly expressing the truth was not without its consequences.

After the attacks of 9/11, President Bush told the world that the terrorists hate us because of our freedom; which includes the freedom of the press. This idea, however, is highly predicated on whether or not policies are enacted that actually DO protect those freedoms and more importantly, whether or not oversight is allowed for the officials we elected to protect those freedoms. But when I hear stories where the media is regulated and the Constitution is pissed on (i.e. when due process is tossed out the window or when Habeous Corpus is mere afterthought), my faith in our "freedoms" and those who "protect" them becomes more and more scarce.

Perhaps the best way to keeping people from hating us because of our freedom it to take it away.

- ACL

10 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

Cynthia said...

In addition to getting their work suppressed by the government, journalists face all sorts of other challenges that people don't seem to talk about (like the 100 or so journalists killed in Iraq).

You're right: spreading truth is not without consequences.

Good post and welcome back.

The H.C. said...

Hey Dre, (or H.C. jr. if you prefer)
I'm sending over one of my tie-dyed t-shirts, you'll have to buy the Brook Brothers jacket yourself.
Great Post! I've been very suprised at the kudo's I've recieved on those pieces. (And thanks again for the props) A lot of people have accurately pointed out great examples, including you on this post. I'm encouraged, the more people look at their media with a suspicious eye the better off they'll be. I think you should however predicate your statement about the Valerie Plame Affair with equal suspicion of the left's media to make Joe Wilson's efforts to be wholesome and without his own agenda. To assume that Wilson's getting off a plane and glancing around means that there were no attempts to purchase yellowcake seems a tad unsuspicious as to what degree of an effort he really made to not find something he certainly didn't want to find to begin with. I think if we had as much suspicion of Wilson and his agenda as we have of the Bush Administration (Both deserve it) we would find this was a classic case of both using their connections to discredit each other and Wilson was by no means the Boyscout he's portrayed as. While it's 100% true that the Bush Administration has taken preverting the truth to new levels, so has the left's media sources. The Patriot Act will certainly be abused now that it's permanent. They all should have taken my advice and left the sunset provisions in it. As far as the 4th Amendment, it is my opinion that it is the single most abused part of the Constitution and I fully intend to write about how badly it's been trampled on. Good to have you back Bro.

Andre said...

@ Cyn: I just read a disturbing article from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) about how the murdering of two more journalists in Iraq have made this war the bloodiest conflict for reporters. So when you say "spreading truth is not without consequences", you're right on the money.

@ HC: Your pieces were well written (as are your others) and deserve every amount of praise there is (a Pulitzer maybe?!). Perhaps that's why I had to share Heirress' blog award with you.

One of the things that makes your blog such a great source is that you leave the bias at the door, like in the case of Valerie Plame. Like you, I'm not exactly crying "Poor Ambassador Wilson." Personally, I think he's a jerk. But I was more critical of the consequences of the Bush Administration's agenda for discrediting him than the other way around. If Wilson manipulates and distorts information, the Bush Administration gets a black eye. If the tables are turned, then a CIA spy is at risk and we go to war. Both parties have secret agendas. One is a little more destructive than the other.

Your comments about the Patriot Act only further my fear of it. Though I'm sure that I don't matter either way to the government, I get a little nervous that one day someone will come a-knockin'...

Andre said...

@ Cynthia: Now that I think about it, the journalist death toll in Iraq only represents the largest of its kind in the history of the CPJ. This history only extends back to the seventies and doesn't include any of the conflicts preceding that era.

Sorry for the misinformation.

KC said...

Just the other night I saw an interview on ABC with a journalist on ABC. I'm no mindreader, but I had an inkling that the reporting was pretty one-sided. We all know that Fox News is a joke. But with the War on Terror, I think the lunancy is starting to spread to other stations.

Andre said...

@ KC: Precisely. Not to diss the journalists in the field (they have far more to say than the folks sitting comfortably in a studio), but I think that the situations they're forced into will add a certain level of subjectivity to their work. Since journalists are starting to become just as targeted as soliders, most of them don't work independently in the field. Rather, they get embedded with soliders which, I think, can affect their ability to report without influence.

KC said...

Dre,

There's an amazing account of what's going on in Baghdad that was emailed to me just the other day. You should check it out when you have a second.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,484661,00.html

Cynthia said...

KC, how did you find this article? It was a great read.

Saved sinner said...

Right on the money again. It's not terrorists who are denying us freedoms. It's our own government.

Anonymous said...

Aljazeera.com is unrelated to the satellite TV channel Al Jazeera,
which operates websites in both Arabic ( www.aljazeera.net ) and English english.aljazeera.net (i.e. Aljazeera TV sites are hosted at .NET not .COM). The people who own Aljazeera.com have no connections to aljazeera TV channel.

Have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aljazeera.com for more infio