"I cannot accept, your canon that we are to judge pope and king unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they do no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way against holders of power....Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." ~ Lord Acton
Banana Republic Journalism
Column by new Root Striker Steve LaTulippe.
Exclusive to STR
In a free society, the activities and communications of the government are rigorously transparent, deliberately left open for all to see. Since the citizens are the owners of the country and the ultimate seat of sovereignty, they have the right to know exactly what their government is doing in their name. The communications of private citizens, on the other hand, are off-limits to everyone, especially government officials. Letters, e-mails, and telephone conversations are entirely private and lay beyond the reach of government snooping (unless, as plainly stated in the Bill of Rights, the government can successfully obtain a warrant by showing legitimate suspicion of criminal wrongdoing).
In an authoritarian state or a degenerate banana republic, this situation is exactly reversed. The actions and communications of government officials are held as “state secrets.” This secrecy serves to hide--deep in the fetid shadows--the government’s trail of corruption, torture, and murder. In such societies, the personal life of the common man is, on the other hand, an open book. Government agencies routinely tap telephones, intercept emails and track internet usage without consequence and without legal oversight. Inevitably, these practices are justified as being necessary to protect the nation from its ever-multiplying legion of “enemies.”
Into which category the United States currently falls is best illustrated by two parallel events: the unfolding Wikileaks scandal and the explosive revelation that the Federal Government has been tracking Americans’ use of credit cards, loyalty cards and travel reservations without court orders. So far, I have found no evidence that the government’s massive invasion of our privacy in the latter case is being pursued as a criminal act. Julian Assange, on the other hand, has been chased around the globe, accused of ridiculous, trumped-up charges.
All of this has been fairly well documented and is something that most of us now expect. But what came as a bit of surprise to me was the mainstream media’s response to the Wikileaks scandal. In my naïveté, I presumed that some remnant of our establishment media would protest the incarceration of an internet journalist whose only real “crime” was to expose the dirty dealings of the American government.
But I should have known better. I have long suspected that the establishment media have become mere mouthpieces of the ruling elite, but a recent article by Richard Cohen in the Wasington Post crushed all doubt. In that piece, Cohen begins, not with outrage at our government’s pathological duplicity as revealed by the cables, but with an assault on the "new media" and its role in uncovering government abuse.
The natural reaction is to want to pop Assange in some way, possibly by indicting him for violating the totally impractical Espionage Act of 1917 or, in the superheated imaginations of some, by declaring him a terrorist and targeting him for something irrevocable.
Really? A so-called journalist's first reaction is violence, assassination and/or bogus legal charges against another journalist for the crime of . . . what? Doing the media's job? Digging up evidence of malfeasance on the part of our government? Speaking truth to power?
But Cohen doesn’t stop there:
The trouble with any of this is that you inevitably get entangled with the Times and other newspapers such as The Post, which also has devoted considerable space and talent to the stories. They all enabled Assange to reach a wider audience . . . .
So let me get this straight. The reason why he thinks that imprisoning or killing Assange is a bad idea is not because it would be an outrageous act, an egregious blow to the very foundation of our constitutional republic. No, it is a bad idea because some of Cohen’s buddies in the establishment media might get dragged into the imbroglio as well.
We can’t have that!
In the next paragraphs, Cohen moves from idiocy to true outrage:
Governments, like married couples, are entitled to their secrets--from us, from the kids and from the neighbors. Total transparency produces total opaqueness. If everything's open, no one says anything. If you want to know why there is no document detailing exactly when George W. Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, it's because of something Dick Cheney once said: "I learned early on that if you don't want your memos to get you in trouble someday, just don't write any." On Iraq, he and Bush followed that rule.
Actually, governments are not “entitled” to anything, secret or otherwise. We, the people, pay the bills. We, the people, bleed and die in their wars. We have a right to know exactly what our government officials (who, after all, work for us) are doing.
Not only is Cohen trafficking here in authoritarian tripe, he is also perpetrating an outrage against history. Of course there are documents detailing exactly why President Bush decided to go to war in Iraq. Has this eminent journalist from one of our nation’s most self-important newspapers never heard of the Downing Street Memo (which is just one of many examples)?
But history aside, Cohen seems to be implying that government transparency might make it more difficult for our leaders to start unjust wars. They might be hamstrung in some ill-defined way, which might make disasters like the Iraq conflict more difficult to initiate.
And this guy calls himself a journalist??
But he doesn’t stop there. The article continues:
One of the juvenile joys of being a journalist used to be knowing what others didn't--the vaunted story behind the story. "You newspapermen know everything," Claudette Colbert tells Fred MacMurray in "The Gilded Lily." No more. Now, everything sees the light of day and media organizations like Gawker, journalism's own little cesspool, pay for such scoops as pictures allegedly sent by Brett Favre to a young lady of his passing acquaintance. This is not what Jefferson had in mind when he championed freedom of the press.
On top of being an apologist for tyranny and a vicious enemy of constitutional government, Cohen is also a despicable elitist and a hypocrite. He openly admits that he and his buddies in the mainstream media haven’t been reporting the whole truth to the American people lo these years. Apparently, what he has been writing and what he knows to be true is not the same thing at all. And now the whole gig is blown because the damned internet came along and spoiled all the fun!
If there is any silver lining to be found in this dark, ugly cloud, it rests with the notion that Cohen and his media are living in the past. He is like a brontosaurus lumbering through the jungle sometime in the late Cretaceous Period. Arrogant, self-satisfied. The lord of all he surveys. Yet somewhere deep in his small, reptilian brain, vaguely disturbing thoughts are percolating. Why does it suddenly seem so cold? What happened to my last batch of eggs? What are those furry things scurrying around my feet?
Julian Assange and Wikileaks--like it or not--are the future. And bogus charges notwithstanding, the future cannot be stopped.