Shooting The Messenger

No, this is not another swipe at Dick Cheney for shooting a guy in the face. This time the White House has a bigger target than quail.

The Bush administration has begun investigating employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, in an attempt to stem leaks such as those about the illegal, warrantless, wiretapping that was recently disclosed. In a deliberate act of intimidation, the investigations also extend to journalists and their sources.

Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times told reporters from the Washington Post:

“There’s a tone of gleeful relish in the way they talk about dragging reporters before grand juries, their appetite for withholding information, and the hints that reporters who look too hard into the public’s business risk being branded traitors. I don’t know how far action will follow rhetoric, but some days it sounds like the administration is declaring war at home on the values it professes to be promoting abroad.”

It’s tough to argue with Keller’s statement, but it’s also tough to ignore the irony. After all, it was Keller’s newspaper that withheld the NSA wiretapping story for over a year at the request of the White House. It was also the New York Times’ reporter, Judith Miller, that published pre-Iraq war propaganda from sanctioned leaks by the Bush administration in order to shore up support for the invasion. She later went to jail to protect another approved administration leaker who sought to intimidate a critic by exposing his wife’s role as a covert CIA operative. The administration doesn’t seem too interested in solving those leaks and has publicly opposed investigations of them. So there is some selectivity as to which leaks stir their ire.

But Keller’s comments draw another kind of irony with regard to Bush’s hostility to values that he seeks to distribute to the rest of the world. Does Keller need a refresher on the numerous ideals of democracy that Bush is shredding here at home? How about…

  • The Patriot Act’s assault on privacy.
  • Planting stories in the Iraqi media.
  • Planting stories (video news releases) in the U.S. media.
  • Abu Ghraib detention and torture.
  • Guantanomo Bay detention and torture.
  • Re-classifying previously de-classified public documents.
  • Free speech zones.
  • Election fraud.

Keller’s surprise is, at best, disingenuous since he was an accomplice to much of the administration’s assault on democratic values. He has helped Bush preside over the most secrecy-obsessed White House since Nixon. Now his chickens are coming home to roost as the Justice Department is contemplating prosecuting journalists for espionage.

The truth is that BushCo’s convenient revelations about the evils of leaks are really just its most recent attempt to further paralyze free speech and neuter the press. And the press, by cozying up to the administration for so many years has left little room for itself to muster a defense. It would be easy to say that they are just getting what they deserve, but you can’t be too flippant with matters like these. Because its the American people who are not getting what we deserve – an independent and aggressively curious press that will fight for truth in the public interest.