Thursday, July 07, 2005

Lies, Laws and the Media

The exposure of deception that triggered the spat that led to the outing of Valerie Plame has landed someone in jail. It is a delicious irony that journalist Judith Miller, who worked so hard and did so much to help promote the Bush administration’s fantasy about WMD in Iraq, ends up the first to go behind bars in this whole sordid affair.

Not surprisingly, the self-obsessed navel-gazing acolytes of the mainstream media think this story is about them, their privileges as the honest broker, the courageous, objective, impartial warriors of news gathering, scouring the horizons for information, fearlessly challenging authority, reporting with fairness and independence.

In fact, most of them sit at their desks all day, pampering themselves with donuts and milk coffee, flirting, farting and waiting for a phone call from their “confidential sources”, red hot tips, straight from the lips of a “senior official who wishes to remain anonymous”, and we’re supposed to swallow this crap and marvel.

Give me a break. If these guys think it’s more important to protect their sources than assist the investigation of a crime, then perhaps they need to change their occupation. Isn’t it bad enough that we have to put up with this sort of anti-social, anti-democratic behaviour from our political leaders? Do journalists expect the public to simply accept being lied to, misinformed, hoodwinked, led up the garden path... by journalists who are more concerned about currying favour with the “powers” than with exposing deceit and corruption in high office.

Anonymous sources do not automatically bestow credibility. As Richard Stengel at the Philadelphia Inquirer opined, such sources “should be used to level the playing field between the powerful and the powerless... But more often than not these days, they have become a device to preserve and enhance power rather than question it - a tool journalists use to advance their own careers rather than the disinterested pursuit of the truth.”

Journalists need to lift their game if they wish to regain credibility for their profession. Their appalling collective malperformance during the pre-war phase of operation Iraq has seriously undermined public confidence in the ability of journalists to discern fact from fiction, let alone penetrate the obfuscation that passes for “media management” in the contemporary political environment. The Valerie Plame affair is a classic example of this “media management” by government.

Frank Rich, writing for the New York Times, compares the scandel to Watergate, noting that “the most important difference between the Bush and Nixon eras has less to do with the press than with the grave origins of the particular case that has sent Judy Miller to jail.” Those origins being the litany of lies Bush used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Rich concludes his editorial with a pertinent question and an astute observation... “has [special prosecutor] Patrick Fitzgerald moved on to perjury and obstruction of justice possibly committed by those who tried to hide their roles in that outing? If so, it would mean the Bush administration was too arrogant to heed the most basic lesson of Watergate: the cover-up is worse than the crime.”

Exposing the name of an undercover CIA operative is a federal offence under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The fact that Ms Plame worked covertly on WMD nonproliferation makes the disclosure of her identity all the more treacherous, since many if not all the “clients” and “contacts” of the clandestine network she worked with in the CIA front company, Brewster Jennings & Associates, and their role of gathering information to help defend America, have now been placed in jeopardy and rendered useless to the CIA. By revealing Ms Plame’s identity, certain individuals have done real and irreparable harm to US national security. This is exactly the sort of misconduct the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was designed to combat.

But it’s not the only statute applicable in this case. As Citizen Spook has noted, the indictment brought against Larry Franklin last week for conspiracy to communicate national defense information in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 793, could equally apply in the case involving the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s identity. And given that the disclosure occured during a time of war (the Global War on Terror), the matter could even attract indictments under Title 18, USC, Section 794, which stipulates in part b)...
Whoever, in time of war, with intent that the same shall be communicated to the enemy, communicates, or attempts to elicit any information ... relating to the public defense, which might be useful to the enemy, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life.
Which should give an indication of just how serious this matter really is, and may explain why the adminstration has decided to redefine the “war on terror” as the “struggle against violent extremism”.

What the mainstream media needs to realize is that this story is not about them, it’s not about their precious sources, it’s not about the First Amendment, it’s not about free speech or confidentiality, or loyalty, or favours... it’s about something far more tangible and a lot more important than Ms Miller and some of her colleagues seem to appreciate - it’s about crimes in high places ... get it!?

It’s about an administration that has no regard for the truth and zero tolerance for dissent. It’s about an arrogant, corrupt administration that has lied us into war, plundered the coffers, desecrated civil liberties... it’s an administration that slinks around in armoured convoys and displays a pathological obsession with secrecy. It bullies, bribes and coerces without qualms, showing nothing but contempt for human rights, labour rights, international law, the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions.

Media darlings, get with it. Wake up to the real world, have a good hard look and a long hard think about the way you’re reporting it.

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