Good laws, bad laws and the media

For the Bush administration, there are good laws and there are bad laws. The good ones, of course, are the laws they can use to pursue their agenda. The bad ones, of course, are the laws that stand in the way of their illegal behavior.

When speaking about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, President Bush said, "Secondly, the FISA law was written in 1978. We're having this discussion in 2006. It's a different world."Bad law.

When cracking down on leaks that both embarrass the White House and reveal its lawlessness, the Justice Department is now arguing that reporters who "received and published classified information"could be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act. Good law.

See the difference?

This pick-and-choose democracy is at the core of the Bush administration. Not only are there good laws and bad laws, but there are also good leaks and bad leaks. While ignoring their "good" leaks - Valerie Plame - the White House seems rather concerned about their "bad" leaks, including their operation of secret prisons and their use of warrantless wiretapping.

For a party governed by distrust of so-called relativism, Republicans don't seem to have a problem with it, insofar as it allows them such luxuries as removing Saddam Hussein from power for doing, in part, the same thing they're doing - using chemical weapons on Iraqis. It also allows them the luxury to "spread freedom" abroad while curtailing it here. Which brings us back to the latest case of Bush-era hypocrisy.

The ultra-secretive Bush administration, despite still employing walking national security threat Karl Rove, seems poised to use the hammer of federal prosecution to further chill an already servile press. Though the Justice Department admits that no member of the media has ever been prosecuted for publishing classified information obtained from a government source, the administration is plainly advocating doing so. Further, it appears they're already cracking down on what they deem problem journalism. To wit:

In a little-noticed case in California, FBI agents from Los Angeles already have contacted Sacramento Bee reporters about stories published in July that were based on sealed court documents related to a terrorism case in Lodi, Calif., according to the newspaper.

[snip]

In Sacramento, the Bee newspaper reported last month that FBI agents had contacted two of its reporters and, along with a federal prosecutor, had "questioned" a third reporter about articles last July detailing the contents of sealed court documents about five terrorism suspects. A Bee article on the contacts did not address whether the reporters supplied the agents with any information or whether they were subject to subpoenas.

I don't need to tell you how disastrous a prolonged administration assault on the media would be. Suffice it to say that, no matter how poorly the press has performed since Bush took office, what we've got now is still superior to what we're likely to see in the near future. A nation whose administration brands journalists traitors simply for doing their jobs is no longer democratic. What good is freedom abroad if it's nowhere to be found at home?

This shoot-the-messenger philosophy is indicative of the administration's attitude toward its behavior. It allows them to shift the focus from their own practices to those of an already demonized media, a longtime right-wing target. Last December, Bush called the disclosure of his warrantless wiretapping a "shameful act." But what's really more shameful? Acting illegally or reporting illegal behavior? To me, the choice is simple.

This isn't about leaks. Nor is it about publishing classified information. Because, if it were, the administration would be seeking the prosecution of the very journalists top White House officials fed the Plame information. No, this is about something far less narrow. It's about the administration's ongoing attempts to turn the Fourth Estate into the official propaganda arm of the Republican Party and Bush White House.

Not satisfied with its stranglehold on talk radio or its ally Fox News, the administration has gone to great lengths to shape the news. They've released bad news when no one's paying attention. They've packaged official government releases as news stories. They've paid for stories at home and abroad that push their agenda. They've planted reporters in the White House press corps to ask softball questions. There have been whispers that they've been spying on journalists, too.

None of it done to prevent illegal activity. All of it done to force the media to either stay silent or parrot administration talking points. Funny, don't you think, that Bush would consider bombing al-Jazeera for the same practices he's trying to instill in the American media?

Tags: George W. Bush, journalism, Media, press, Republicans (all tags)

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