Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Anybody who was paying attention at the time knew that the national media-- and particularly the New York Times-- was in the tank with the Bush Administration. The fact that Jill Abramson is now admitting it should be enough to keep something like that from happening again, but it won't be.
Abramson was the Times’ Washington bureau chief at the time. The debris in lower Manhattan was still settling when Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary, arranged a conference call that included “every leading editor in Washington.”
Abramson dilates on this key moment:
“The purpose of his call was to make an agreement with the press—this was just days after 9/11—that we not publish any stories that would go into details about the sources and methods of our intelligence programs. I have to say, that in the wake of 9/11, all of us readily agreed to that.”
Plenty of people who one would have hoped would have thought better of a massive scheme to defraud the country-- the world, really-- into as misbegotten a series of wars as have occurred in history. Colin Powell. Most of the Senate, including the New York delegation. It is not difficult to understand why-- but it is, for me, impossible to excuse or forgive. When you are a journalist your sole obligation is to the truth. When you are elected, or appointed, to serve you take an oath to uphold the Constitution. The one I took when I was admitted to this glamor profession went like this:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the State of New York, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of [attorney and counselor-at-law], according to the best of my ability.
The oath that members of Congress takes is a little more elaborate:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Journalists, of course, take no oaths. Finley Peter Dunn said that newspapers should  "comfort[s] th' afflicted, [and]afflict[s] th' comfortable", and Mother Jones said that was likewise her task in life, but if Jill Abramson ever felt that way it was a pie crust promise, easily made and easily broken. And what does that leave us with? On the evidence neither the government nor the press is going to tell us the truth-- at least, not all the time-- and where does that mean about democratic self government? What the New York Times did was to become a mouthpiece for an Administration that was already suspect, abandoning any pretext of objectivity in the process. I guess what this means is that one should read the Times for the box scores and the recipes. The excuse that Abramson offers is basically the same excuse President Obama just offered when discussing John Brennan and the country's torture policy: these were mistakes made by people out of patriotism. Here's the thing: it is a fine thing to love and defend one's country, but there are more important values. Indeed, in the context of this discussion I would put it to you that loving and defending one's country must necessarily mean valuing the principles and values upon which the country was founded-- and still purports to observe has to take presidence over concealing the actions of the government. When the press operates to obscure the actions of the government it is complicit in whatever crimes the government is committing in our name. When I hear "patriotism" cited as an excuse or a justification for anything I want to spit between my fingers.

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