Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Attacks on "leaks" and the erosion of our democracy

Republican politicians continue to attack the news media for publishing details of a secret program to track terrorist financing, despite the fact that details of the program have been discussed by the administration many times.

Dean Baquet and Bill Keller, editors of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, defended the recent disclosures of their papers and made a broader case for a press that holds government accountable in a recent op-ed piece.

Government officials, understandably, want it both ways. They want us to protect their secrets, and they want us to trumpet their successes. A few days ago, Treasury Secretary John Snow said he was scandalized by our decision to report on the bank-monitoring program. But in September 2003, the same Secretary Snow invited a group of reporters from our papers, the Wall Street Journal and others to travel with him and his aides on a military aircraft for a six-day tour to show off the department's efforts to track terrorist financing. The secretary's team discussed many sensitive details of their monitoring efforts, hoping they would appear in print and demonstrate the administration's relentlessness against the terrorist threat.


Personally, I find it troublesome when our government engages in torture and domestic surveillance, and maintains secret prisons without judicial review in the name of "national security." They'll tell members of Congress, but they can't tell us about it because of "national security." If a journalist leaks this information, they're slandered and pressured to reveal their sources. On the other hand, they'll selectively declassify information when its to slander a critic or for their own political advantage.

Representative James McGovern (D) characterized the attacks as a cheap way to energize the demoralized Republican base, and also emphasized the hypocrisy of fair-weather leaks:

``Let's be honest: We are here today because there hasn't been enough red meat thrown at the Republican base before the Fourth of July holiday," McGovern said. ``The administration and its allies have no problem with leaks to the press when those leaks advance their political agenda. But if a leak contradicts their agenda, suddenly they call it treason."


On a related note, Kentucky's governor Ernie Fletcher (R) restricted access to a blog critical of his administration for over 34,000 state employees.

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