Monday, May 01, 2006

What's sexy about...

What's sexy about the free flow of information, and a free press? When do we get to watch Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon wrap their arms around the First Amendment, and walk down Broadway in protest of this government's back room efforts to prosecute journalists under arcane espionage laws?

In an article in yesterday's New York Times, "There Are Leaks. And Then There Are Leaks," the Big Picture comes to light as all the dots are connected in an ongoing, and unprecedented, attempt to intimidate members of the information -gathering, and relaying, profession. As The Times reports, in the past year alone, a journalist for that paper was jailed for refusing to compromise her oath of confidentiality, a CIA analyst terminated for her contact with reporters, and subpoenas, for the most part, have been routinely upheld by the courts. Even an event as egregious as the FBI's latest attempt to confiscate classified documents from a deceased columnist, Jack Anderson, is something that has gone largely unnoticed, and unopposed, by the mainstream media and the public-at-large. This administration seems no longer to be drawing from the works of Kafka, with respect to their foreign and domestic policy, it now seems to be looking to Gogol, too.

As the article relates, a few months ago, a Republican senator from Texas asked the attorney-general whether it was possible to criminalize a newspaper's disclosure of a clandestine (and illegal) National Security Agency domestic eavesdropping program; Mr. Gonzales' response was: "Obviously, our prosecutors are going to look to see all the laws that have been violated. And if the evidence is there, they're going to prosecute those violations." Alas, if only Mr. G showed the same alacrity in going after the White House for their subversion of the FISA law. Indeed, were Senator Cornyn, of Texas, to get his way, instead of accolades, The New York Times and The Washington Post would face federal charges. The irony that both newspapers received Pulitzer Prizes for exposing NSA domestic surveillance programs, and secret CIA prisons respectively, is inescapable.

The question one might reasonably be expected to ask is, specifically, which espionage laws might reporters be accused of breaking? The first dates back to 1917, and forbids those with "unauthorized access to documents concerning the national defense" (NYT) from repeating, orally or in writing, any information that would compromise our national defense. A second law, from 1950, prohibits publishing "communications intelligence activities.' As The Times also reports, Andrew C. McCarthy, a one-time federal prosecutor in New York, believes that the newspaper broke both the 1917 and 1950 espionage laws. The underlying question appears to be can newspapers be exempted, under the First Amendment, from espionage laws when it was their intent to reveal wrongdoing on the part of their government?

There are some among us who have been terrified of this administration's attempt to stifle dissent, suppress information, and compromise the concept of confidentiality, as well as the profession of journalism, for the past few years. Then, there are those who prefer to deny that the radical right wing of the Republican Party, apart from setting the agenda since this administration was sworn in, has decimated the public's trust in their news to such a degree that it has become the stuff Comedy Central is made of.

Just Friday, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, for The Los Angeles Times, was forced to capitulate, and withdraw his blog because he wrote controversial comments, using pseudonyms, on other political Web sites. While there can be no question that Mr. Hitzak violated his newspaper's rules, and code of ethics, one wonders if he would have been prosecuted, or given a slap on the wrist, had it not been that he raised the dander (if not the dandruff) of a conservative district attorney from the same party that pressured publishers of the LAT to fire another renowned columnist for that same paper, Robert Scheer.

If daunting, the underlying issue is will it be a cold day in hell before we see the same righteous indignation, on the part of those who bring much-needed attention, when the opportunities for a photo-op are conspicuously absent? And, when will harassment of a free press be deemed a matter of sufficient import for people to line the streets, nationwide, as we can no more afford to depend on celebrities than on politicians to bring us the truth.

We must support our journalists for had it not been for the indominable efforts of two Washington, D.C. reporters, one former president, Richard Nixon, would have been allowed to retire in style, and regale himself in history. We must all stand up for the right to know what our government is doing, as well as defend those who exercise the privilege of bringing that information to us, before it's too late, and journalists, too, join the endangered species list.