There is one -- count him, one -- Republican member of the House of Representatives who supports Freedom of the Press.
Connecticut Congressman Chris Shays was the only member of the Republican caucus to join Democrats in opposing a House resolution that condemns news organizations for providing the American people with information about what their government is doing in their name but without their informed consent.
The non-binding resolution, rushed onto the House floor after President Bush and Vice President Cheney launched a public relations war against the New York Times for published leaked details of a Treasury Department effort to monitor bank transfers, was endorsed by a vote of 220-195 Thursday.
Voting to take a swipe at the Constitution were 219 Republicans and Louisiana Democrat Charlie Melancon.
Voting to protect and preserve the First Amendment were 194 Democrats and Shays.
The resolution, which was sponsored by Ohio Republican Mike Oxley, a powerful House member with close ties to the White House, declared "support for intelligence and law enforcement programs to track terrorists and terrorist finances conducted consistent with Federal law and with appropriate Congressional consultation" -- something no one in the House is likely to oppose. But it also put the House on record as "condemning the disclosure and publication of classified information that impairs the international fight against terrorism and needlessly exposes Americans to the threat of further terror attacks by revealing a crucial method by which terrorists are traced through their finances" -- a message intended to intimidate whistleblowers and reporters who seek to expose assaults on the privacy rights of Americans that have been undertaken by the administration in a secretive manner that is inconsistent with Federal law and that eschews appropriate Congressional consultation.
Just to make his point clear, Oxley explained to his colleagues that the intention of his resolution was to signal that the government "expects the cooperation of all news media."
That sounded a little like a pronouncement from a Communist Party Congress in Beijing to Congressman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is one of the senior members of the House. Both the United States and China "seem to be eager to clamp down as much as possible on their journalistic critics," Obey explained before voting "no."
Congressman Maurice Hinchey, the New York Democrat who co-chairs the House Future of Media Caucus and is one of the chamber's stalwart defenders of civil liberties, told his colleagues, "This measure attempts to intimidate the press and strengthen the hands of this despotic administration, which continues to violate the law. This president is in favor of releasing classified information to the press when it's to his political advantage and condemning the press when information reveals that the administration may be violating the law."
Added Hinchey, "Freedom of the press is essential to a functioning democracy in this country. However, this White House along with this rubber stamping, Republican Congress are impeding the press' ability to report the news and making it difficult for the public to understand the truth."
Congressman James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, was blunter. The representative, whose district is home to thousands of federal employees -- many of them involved in intelligence gathering -- referred to the resolution as "nuts."
Moran is, of course, correct.
Remarkably, only one Republican decided not to follow his party over the cliff of authoritarian ranting: Shays.
The Connecticut Republican had better watch out. He may find that his dissent will cost him his parking privileges -- or some other perk of office.
House Republicans are in a punitive mood. Arizona Representative J.D. Hayworth, who can usually be counted on to up the loony quotient, has collected the signatures of 70 House members, all Republicans, on a letter calling for the media credentials of New York Times reporters to be revoked.
What's next? A petition to take away Chris Shays' elevator pass?
John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.
© 2006 The Nation