Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Editor approves Horsey's slander
(Peee-ulitzer winner's sick-toon.)
I phoned editorial page editor Mark Trahant (his number here), and told him I think Horsey's cartoon is slanderous. Trahant's voice got high and tight as he insisted that the cartoon is accurate. He then started reading an explanation that Horsey had left for him. Horsey's explanation is based on the story of the Afghan prisoners who died during interrogation, as reported in detail by the New York Times four days ago. I protested that the Afghan killings were from over two years ago. Trahan shouted something unintelligible, and hung up.
When he answered again I said: "DON'T hang up on me," and we managed to have a small bit of a conversation. I suggested that the age of the Afghan cases matters because Horsey clearly implies that there is an ongoing problem of prisoners being brutalized to death. He implies that the abuse is current by having the officer in the cartoon cite this week's Newsweek story while a dead body is dragged out behind him, but all the evidence is that abuse is NOT an ongoing problem. The New York Times article was based on leaks from a 2000 page criminal investigation that the Army compiled over the last two years. The Army has investigated and is punishing what wrongdoing occurred. Trahant tried to maintain the Army's ongoing culpability by noting that: "The Army did not reveal the Afghan prisoner abuse." I answered that the Army's job is not to publicize abuse but to correct it, and they have done that.
Publicizing military bad behavior is not automatically the Fourth Estate's job either. As I said in my earlier post on the NYT story, there is no public interest in exposing military bad behavior that the military is dealing with. The same was the case at Abu Ghraib. What minor bad behavior was involved (otherwise acceptable humiliation of terrorists for intelligence purposes was undertaken by careless and unregulated silly people) had already been brought under proper control and criminal investigations were in process. As with the Afghan story, the news initially came out via the internal investigations that were appropriately dealing with what had occurred. There was no public interest in exposing what the Army had already corrected. Just the opposite, exposing Abu Ghraib did a huge public disservice, but this is what Isikoff and Mapes and others were awarded prizes for by their compatriots in the MSM.
The only difference between the Afghan story and the Abu Ghraib story is that the NYT's Afghan story was based on illegal leaks of classified information, while Abu Ghraib was based on private leaks of unclassified soldier's photos. The MSM asserts that its "gold standard" is two independent sources for anonymously sourced stories. How about also considering whether the leak is criminal, and whether there is a public interest in publishing it.
The issue of criminality is obscured in some cases by the precedent established by the Pentagon Papers case. As I understand it, the Supremes ruled that outrageous behavior on the part of the government so muddied the case that Daniel Ellsberg could not be criminally prosecuted for leaking classified documents. But this confusion does not apply to recent cases (the Afghan story and the pre-election release of a trumped-up pessimistic report on Iraq). Far from behaving outrageously, the government is doing exactly what it should. Our military has acted promptly and thoroughly to correct and prosecute incidents of wrongdoing. Now it is the media's turn. The NYT and its sources should be investigated for criminal wrongdoing when they publish classified information. Horsey's slander and the Abu Ghraib reporting fall into a different class. They do not involve any statutory criminality, but they most certainly are morally criminal.
Zell Miller gets it. His answer to a question by Captain Ed:
ZM: Well it would help if we had more in the media who understand that when they criticize America or the military or anything that relates to this country, when they criticize that, it's magnified many times over overseas. An example is the Newsweek situation. They should have known better than to have done that. Even if it's true they ought not to have printed it. It's not true, but even if it were true, they should not have printed it because they knew—anyone would know that it would cause riots, people being killed. There are certain things that the media should and should not do when we're at war, and we're at war.James McCormic suggests that the NYT is "circling the wagons" with its Afghanistan article, presenting a story of old errors corrected as fresh outrage in an attempt to take the heat off of Newsweek and put it back on the Army (where Newsweek originally tried to put it). Horsey's sick-toon manifests this strategy with all the deformed exaggerations of caricature that are the political cartoonist's bread and butter. Newsweek is attacked? Hurl slanderous lies at the military. No hint that he realizes that it is his own bias that is revealed to be deformed and exaggerated to the point of grotesque caricature.
Great quote from retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney, commenting on another case of the mainstream media making unfounded accusations against the U.S. military (Linda Foley's accusation that soldiers are murdering journalists):
It may be legitimate to investigate whether there may or may not have been an incident in which U.S. troops have targeted journalists, but there is no question at this point that major media figures are targeting the men and women of the United States military in Iraq, repeatedly and with no evidence.They are acting like a Michael Moore army, using what remaining influence they have to tell the lies that might allow them to crush their critics and retain their influence. In an age when lying is getting easier and easier to expose, this does not look like a propitious strategy, but it is the only one available to them, because LIARS IS WHAT THEY ARE.
UPDATE: After reading the Pentagon Papers decision by the Supreme Court (New York Times v. United States, 1971), my above characterization of the case requires modification. I was conflating Ellsberg’s criminal trial (which did not reach the Supreme Court) with the question of whether the New York Times could legally publish the classified papers (which did reach the Court). It was Ellsberg’s prosecution that fell through on grounds of improper government behavior (Liddy and Hunt broke into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist). In the Supreme Court case, publication was allowed on the grounds that the executive branch had not met the necessary burden of justification for restricting freedom of speech.
Findlaw summarizes the precedent as follows:
The court ruled that the government had not proved that publication would inflict "direct, immediate, and irreparable harm to the national interest."What is bizarre is that Justice Stewart arrived at this conclusion after arguing that this determination was for the executive to decide, not the courts:
But in the cases before us we are asked neither to construe specific regulations nor to apply specific laws. We are asked, instead, to perform a function that the Constitution gave to the Executive, not the Judiciary. We are asked, quite simply, to prevent the publication by two newspapers of material that the Executive Branch insists should not, in the national interest, be published. I am convinced that the Executive is correct with respect to some of the documents involved. But I cannot say that disclosure of any of them will surely result in direct, immediate, and irreparable damage to our Nation or its people. That being so, there can under the First Amendment be but one judicial resolution of the issues before us. I join the judgments of the Court. [At 730.]I think the Court SHOULD exercise oversight here, but come on, Stewart had just claimed it shouldn’t!
Justice White’s concurrence is even weirder, arguing that publication by the New York Times might well be criminal, but asserting that this cannot justify an injunction. The Times must be allowed to commit the crime, THEN the legal system can act. This is how he interprets our ESPIONAGE laws. We are not allowed to interdict Benedict Arnold. We have to let him commit his treason, then we can execute him, but we can’t stop him.
Justice Black’s opinion for the Court asserts that there can be NO restrictions on freedom of speech. Evidently he would deny that we can even punish Benedict Arnold AFTER the fact, in spite of explicit Constitutional provision. Holy cow, what a bunch of morons. Blackmun is one of the few who made any sense:
I hope that damage has not already been done. If, however, damage has been done, and if, with the Court's action today, these newspapers proceed to publish the critical documents and there results therefrom "the death of soldiers, the destruction of alliances, the greatly increased difficulty of negotiation with our enemies, the inability of our diplomats to negotiate," to which list I might add the factors of prolongation of the war and of further delay in the freeing of United States prisoners, then the Nation's people will know where the responsibility for these sad consequences rests. [At 763. Hat tip, Hugh Hewitt.]What is astounding to contemplate is how Court has flip-flopped from its First Amendment absolutism in the Pentagon Papers case to its First Amendment annihilationism in upholding McCain-Feingold. In the latter case, the merest suggestion of a state interest in combating the appearance of impropriety was sufficient to justify unbounded regulation of political speech. Surely under this new precedent, war powers based restrictions on publishing classified intelligence are a slam dunk. (My post on constitutional annihilism in general, and its origins in Korematsu v. United States, here.)
Public interest? I dont think it should be up to the media to decide whats best for the "public interest." Hows that saying go? "we report, you decide.." I do not want to live in a world where the media will only tell me what wont make others in the world angry at us.
In any event, its a POLITICAL CARTOON. Its not an exact painting of facts, but a slice of public perception. Decrying Horsey's cartoon because the newsweek debacle actually happened after the prisoner abuse is like decrying this (http://www.coxandforkum.com/archives/000336.html) cartoon because it suggests the media were actually asking for directions. (for the record, I like both cartoons, lest anyone scream about political bias on my part).
It is interesting that anonymous can appreciate a cartoon that uses artistic license to pervert the truth the same as he can appreciate a cartoon that uses artistic license to convey the truth (as if there is no such thing as the truth), but HE isn’t what matters here. So long as the military is effective in rooting out actual wrongdoing, the citizenry’s need to know is not grave, and cannot trump our grave national interest in containing information (especially classified information) that is harmful to our war effort. If there were evidence of real abuses (U.N. “peace-keeper” type abuses say) that were not being rooted out, then there would be a contest between the need for publicity as counter to abuse, and the need for secrecy in the service of our war efforts. There is no such contest here, and in NO case is it moral to try to make our military look WORSE than it is. No army has ever been so effective in minimizing civilian casualties or abuses by soldiers. Our troops are awesome! Horsey paints them as grotesque.
Suppose you were a stone-age denizen of some country plagued by Saudi-funded Islamic fascism. Which would inflame you more: the charge that a Koran was flushed down a toilet (an occasional activity of Islamists themselves at Guantanamo), or the charge that captured countrymen are being beaten to death? Anonymous dismisses political cartoons as inconsequential. To our Islamist enemy, Horsey’s political cartoon is a potential propaganda bonanza, and you know what? That’s what it is to Horsey too. He jumps at every opportunity to depict our military with maximum dishonesty. He is trying to win the propaganda battle for Newsweek, and for his anti-war side, interests which can’t help but coincide with the interests of al-Qaeda. Anonymous is frightened by the suggestion that the media should care about the public interest. I am disturbed by the fact that they only care about their partisan interests.
But for Rawls to be non-partisan in this debate is to practice self censorship and silence, an idea that I would expect to find more favor in the People’s Republic than the United States of America.
Freedom of speech, and especially the freedom to criticize one’s own government, is the hardest to protect, and it is this very freedom that is first to go in totalitarian regimes. But it is by far the most important freedom, and it separates us from much of the rest of the world. It is a major part of what makes this the greatest country on earth.
As Rawls points out the military is investigating and bringing to justice those responsible for the previous prisoner abuses. This did not happen by accident. The photos and news reports of abuse brought to light despicable acts not only to the American public, and not only to the world at large, but brought it to light for the military leaders themselves, giving them the information and power they needed to be able to recognize the problem and act.
It is because of our freedom of speech, which includes the difficult freedom to criticize our own government that we have a military that is unequaled in its ability to minimize civilian casualties while still successfully carrying out its objectives. That is a large part of what makes me proud to be an American.
To give up this right and to practice self censorship (which is only a step away from government enforced censorship) because it may make terrorists and ‘semi-innocent primitives’ upset is to give these people a veto over what we can read and hear. I support our troops and I will not do our soldiers the disservice of voluntarily surrendering to a terrorist veto the very freedoms that our armed forces fight and die to protect.
One way of framing the right-left, red-blue, religious-secular divide in America is between those who see liberty as entailing responsibility and those who see liberty as entailing non-judgmentalism. Horsey reveals what non-judgmentalism degenerates into. He does not hold HIMSELF to any standard of honest judgment. He sees a way to twist a couple of news items into an effective slander against who he regards as his enemy, and that is what he does. His underlying message is demonstrably dishonest. The most conscientious and self-correcting military campaign in history is presented as deserving of a bad reputation, while dishonest reporting is absolved of culpability for same. In contrast, the Cox & Forkum cartoon Chester refers to, depicting the news media as reserving its outrage for relatively minor bad acts by the U.S. military, while downplaying the genuine evil of our enemies, is demonstrably correct.
Ann Coulter has made this point many times. By making a principle out of the rejection of principle, the left has made itself immoral. It fails to attain the moral self-control on which a free society depends.
On the question of should rather than must, everyone should ALWAYS self-censor tendentiousness, cant, demagogeury and slander.
Neither of these excercises of self-control is at all at odds with free speech.