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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A "Pulitzer Prize for Treason"

(updated below with transcript of Bill Bennett's comments)

Several weeks ago, The Washington Post published an Op-Ed jointly written by Bill Bennett and his neoconservative comrade Alan Dershowitz, in which Bennett -- of all people -- pretended to be an advocate of a free press by decrying the media's "capitulat[ion] to Islamists." Bennett was upset that only a handful of American newspapers had published the Mohammed cartoons, arguing that by failing to publish the cartoons, "the press has betrayed not only its duties but its responsibilities."

As I noted at the time and on several other occasions, Bush supporters like Bennett are the last people who ought to be parading around under the banner of a free press, given their lengthy and intensifying efforts to destroy investigative journalism in this country by criminalizing its defining functions and threatening reporters with imprisonment who expose dubious, or worse, conduct on the part of the Bush administration. That is a very real and disturbing trend which has received far less attention than it deserves -- particularly from, ironically and revealingly enough, the press itself.

Yesterday, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau received well-deserved Pulitzer Prizes for "national reporting" based on their (year-long-delayed) disclosure of the President's illegal NSA eavesdropping program. That award has set off a new slew of bitter commentary from Bush supporters, including Bennett, proclaiming that Risen and Lichtblau belong in prison. On his radio show this morning, the great free press crusader Bennett said: "I think what they did is worthy of jail."

Powerline, as always, helpfully expounds on this definitively American principle of throwing reporters in jail who publish stories which damage the political interests of the Commander-in-Chief during a Time of War. In an item entitled "Pulitzer Prize for Treason," Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson says that Risen and Lichtblau won the Pulitzer "for their treasonous contribution to the undermining of the highly classified National Security Agency surveillance program of al Qaeda-related terrorists," which -- according to Johnson, "is a particularly serious crime insofar as it lends assistance to the enemy" -- all together, now -- "in a time of war."

According to Big Trunk, the Times reporters are even worse than Stalin apologist Walter Duranty, who wrote for the Times and won a Pulitzer in the 1930s. This is how he explains his sequencing of journalistic villains:

What about the Pulitzer Prize committee? When Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for the Times in connection with his mendacious coverage of Stalin's Soviet Union, he performed valuable public relations work for a mass murderer. He nevertheless did no direct harm to the United States. Today's Pulitzer Prize award to the Times brings a new shame to the Pulitzer Prize committee that builds on its disgrace last year via the award to the AP.

Remember - these are the people who think that they are elevated and pure enough to invade other countries in order to teach the repressed masses about democracy and freedom. They endlessly tout their own patriotism and crusades for freedom while agitating for the imprisonment of journalists who publish stories which reflect poorly on their leader. On countless fronts, they are on the precipice of dismantling every defining value and principle of liberty we have.

In his Washington Post Op-Ed where he pretended to believe in a free press, Bennett said this:

[O]ur general agreement and understanding of the First Amendment and a free press is informed by the fact -- not opinion but fact -- that without broad freedom, without responsibility for the right to know carried out by courageous writers, editors, political cartoonists and publishers, our democracy would be weaker, if not nonexistent.

Today, Bennett said that the reporters who sparked one of the most important investigative stories in the last five years should be arrested, tried and convicted -- presumably for treason (I wonder whether Bennett and Johnson believe that a couple of decades in prison is a sufficient punishment for these reporters; after all, we hang, not imprison, traitors).

It is difficult, and I think foolish, to ignore these ugly impulses which are always pulsating immediately beneath the veneer of so many Bush followers. These are not random, fringe commentators whose extremist views are being held up to make a point. Rather, these are among the most representative and, in Bennett's case, influential Bush followers who have been incessantly and indignantly calling for the imprisonment of journalists. And as the drumbeat for war against Iran grows more intense, so, too, will the perceived justification for these types of distinctly un-American measures. The more "times of war" we have, the less room we have for marginal liberties, such as the luxury of a free press.

UPDATE: Bill Bennett's radio rant, an audio clip of which is here, is highly worth listening to in order to smell the destination to which our country has descended in five short years. Does this sound anything like the United States to you? Speaking of Risen and Lichtblau (and Dana Priest), Bennett said that they:

took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others, that they not release it - they not only released it, they publicized it -- they put it on the front page, and it damaged us, it hurt us.

How do we know it damaged us? Well, it revealed the existence of the surveillance program - so people are going to stop making calls - since they are now aware of this - they're going to adjust their behavior . . . .

Are they punished, are they in shame, are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win pulitzer prizes - they win pulitzer prizes - I don't think what they did was worthy of an award - I think what they did was worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward. . . . .

But these people who reveal our secrets, who hurt our war efforts . . . who hurt the efforts of the President's people . . . they shouldn't be given prizes and awards for this, they shouldn't be given prizes and awards for this, they should be looked into . . . the Espionage Act, investigation of these leaks, I'm telling you, I'm hot. . . .

They published this story "against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president." What journalists would dare defy the wishes of the president? And in America, no less. And now, The Terrorists know that we are trying to eavesdrop on them, because they never knew that before. And these reporters therefore belong in prison.

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