Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

ARE REPORTERS ABOVE THE LAW?

The New York Times makes the case.

A democratic society cannot long survive if whistle-blowers are criminally punished for revealing what those in power don't want the public to know - especially if it's unethical, illegal or unconstitutional behavior by top officials.


So the Times asserts, with no evidence whatsoever. This statement is a preposterous exaggeration. The United States was far more secretive in World War II and the Cold War than now, and democracy arguably survived. Britain's Official Secrets Act is more illiberal than anything America has ever had, and it's been a democratic society for a long time. That doesn't mean government secrecy is good, though. There's a perennial trade-off between the value of state secrets in enabling the government to pursue our enemies more effectively, and the value of better public information about the government's activities. If the Times feels this trade-off should be pushed more in the direction of public information, I'm sympathetic.

Where the Times argument fails is in the blatant double standard by which they wish to condemn the Valerie Wilson leak while supporting their own leak:

The longest-running of the leak cases involves Valerie Wilson, a covert C.I.A. operative whose identity was leaked to the columnist Robert Novak. The question there was whether the White House was using this information in an attempt to silence Mrs. Wilson's husband, a critic of the Iraq invasion, and in doing so violated a federal law against unmasking a covert operative. There is a world of difference between that case and a current one in which the administration is trying to find the sources of a New York Times report that President Bush secretly authorized spying on American citizens without warrants. The spying report was a classic attempt to give the public information it deserves to have. The Valerie Wilson case began with a cynical effort by the administration to deflect public attention from hyped prewar intelligence on Iraq. The leak inquiry in that case ended up targeting the press, and led to the jailing of a Times reporter.


The "hypoed preward intelligence on Iraq" line has long since been discredited. Joseph Wilson's mission, and the lies he told about it afterwards, were a cynical effort by the CIA to delegitimize a war which they opposed because of the culture of amoral foreign policy "realism" that pervades that agency-- or, if you prefer, because of the CIA's greater wisdom. It doesn't matter. Right or wrong, the CIA wasn't elected to run US foreign policy, and Wilson's mission was a betrayal of the CIA's mandate and, in a small way, an attack on democracy.

The fact that Joe Wilson was set up for the mission by his wife was information that the public needed to know, and we are indebted to the public servant who leaked it. (Begin ironic overstatement) A democracy cannot long survive if government agencies and bureaucracies pursue their own agendas, disregarding or defying the will of elected officials. (End ironic overstatement)

1 Comments:

  • Repairs start at $39.95 for Leak, Plumbing & Handyman Services.

    Silver FOX Home Comfort Services offers a FULL SERVICE program to maintain one of your biggest investments - YOUR HOME! We offer a 'ONE CALL DOES IT ALL" concept allowing you - the home owner - the convenience of solving ALL your HOME'S needs by contacting your Silver Fox Independent Home Comfort Specialists.

    Is your Leak giving you problems? Visit our website - we can help!

    By Anonymous Leak, at 5:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home