Published on Monday, July 10, 2006 by the Minneapolis - St. Paul Star-Tribune (Minnesota)
The Need to Know: No Questions, No Dissent in Our Endless War
When the House declares that it 'expects the cooperation of all news media organizations,' it is a seminal moment
by Paul Scott
When they write the history of how America became a nation permanently at war and permanently willing to invoke the cause of war in defense of a vast trove of state secrets -- when every last corner of your life becomes the business of this newly permanent climate of war -- I hope they remember how our Republican Congress voted on the Friday before Independence Day to intimidate the press for letting us know what was happening.
For those who have not been paying attention, please put down your iPods and read the following: Reps. John Kline, Gil Gutknecht, Colin Peterson, Mark Kennedy and Jim Ramstad all voted to declare that Congress "expects the cooperation of all news media organizations. ... "
Chances are tomorrow's historians will remember House Resolution 895, but they will not be able to criticize it. Chances are that when the policies set in motion under the deplorable presidency of George W. Bush have reached their fruition, the state-approved history of our time will have omitted the steady erosion of dissent first initiated on Fox News and ultimately embraced by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The scoundrels who make their living feeding the flames of right-wing outrage will tell you that a newspaper, the New York Times, committed the treasonous act of reporting the existence of a secret program to monitor banking transactions with terrorist ties. They will tell you that this reporting put American lives at risk and gave help to the enemy. They will tell you that it is time for the arrest and prosecution of journalists in America, and that no other action will help us win this "war."
They will not tell you that the president had repeatedly and publicly pledged to monitor banking transactions. They will not tell you that Congress publicly asked him to do so in the Patriot Act. They will not tell you, as recently reported in the Boston Globe, that the counterterrorism efforts of the consortium in question, SWIFT, was already a matter of public record in a U.N. document. They will not tell you, as recently reported in the Washington Post, that SWIFT makes clear on its very own website that it cooperates with state authorities tracking criminal activity.
Who are these people clamoring for the prosecution of the press? Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, yes, not to mention the dingbat talker out of California named Melanie Morgan who said that if Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, "were to be tried and convicted of treason, yes, I would have no problem with him being sent to the gas chamber." But even thoughtful commentators put the nation's free press in their kill zone. William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, offered on Fox News Sunday that "I think the Justice Department has an obligation to consider prosecution." His reason: "This is a U.S. government secret program in a time of war." Kristol's "time of war" rationale was echoed by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which published a Times-bashing editorial subtitled "What are the obligations of the press during wartime?"
And maybe it is this wartime mentality that is the real enemy. "The war on terrorism" is no war; it is a policy objective, a publicity campaign for a state-sponsored police action. It happens to be a very necessary and worthwhile state-sponsored police action. But by definition, both terrorism and the hateful Islamists currently targeting Americans are not, and never will be, a threat that war can resolve. Terrorism will never be put to rest in a treaty signing at sea. There will be no D-Day in this war.
As such, changes in law that take place during a war without end, as was the decision to monitor banking records, are not simply "war plans" whose disclosure makes one into a traitor. They are permanent changes in the laws of the land. We need to know about permanent changes in the laws of our land if we are to live in a free and open society.
The outrage currently directed at the Times should be directed at Bush and the congressional Republicans who are now preparing the American psyche for the raiding of newspaper offices by federal marshals. They used to intimidate the president's opponents with spin, but that stopped working, so now they need to raise the fear of jail and death. Just as they always do in failing governments intolerant of criticism and contemptuous of the press.
Paul Scott is a writer in Rochester, Minnesota.
© 2006 The Star-Tribune