Freedom of the Press

There is more than one way to erode the freedom of the press guarantee of the Constitution’s First Amendment. As a reminder, this brief Amendment reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment need not be eroded by Executive Branch subversion and challenges to the freedoms it grants. It can be eroded by the failure of the members of the press to investigate and report what they find. A single reporter faces enormous institutional pressures. These pressures come from major corporations that own broadcasting networks and newspaper facilities; from the routine, everyday sources for meeting deadlines; and from the “high-level” sources who, it is hoped, provide something new, however laden with spin. It is not easy to be a reporter, and it is even less easy to be an independent publisher of print media.

How this works is beautifully detailed in an article on the Media Matters website by Eric Boehlert, titled “Scooter Libby and the Media Debacle.” In careful prose he cites name after name of well-known reporters who were aware of the source of the information that Joseph Wilson, former Ambassador in Africa, had a wife who was an active undercover CIA agent, and that her name was Valerie Plame. In addition, some of these reporters knew that the story emanating from Libby and others in the Office of the Vice President was false. Their collective failures to report what they knew are carefully documented in Boehlert’s article, without flaming liberal prose.

In a similar vain, I have noted here Eric Umansky’s article in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) on the U.S. record on torture, which asks “How Well Has the Press Covered Torture?”

<>The previous doctortwo comments on issues and articles connected with press freedom can be found under the titles “Press Freedom” and “Reason and Responsibility.”
<>The lack of press responsibility on the issues of compromising the CIA, and on torture, in the major, most used press outlets  means that as citizens we have a heavy burden of due diligence. This burden is the time-consuming search for alternate news sources, and failing (or suspecting) those as well, for reporting on the newsmakers themselves, and the newsmaking process.

Reason and Responsibility

I started this blog in order to be able to reason about torture; specifically, the U.S. involvement in torture. Then I did not frame a post about the topic, partly because it had disappeared from my news feeds. That disappearance is able covered by Eric Umansky, formerly editor of the “Today’s Papers” feature in the online newspaper, Slate. Eric has published a thoughtful piece, “Failures of Imagination” in the Columbia Journalism Review that disentangles that lack of news about torture by the United States.

He has also put a banner on his blog that leads one to the PostGlobal blog at the Washington Post, where there is currently a discussion about torture, in general, and in U.S. specifics.

The title of my blog, Undoing Denial, references more than the mental processes of a middle-of-the-roader. It expresses to me the denial of U.S. involvement in torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantana/mo, and undisclosed locations outside U.S. territory.

The following is my response on responsibility for torture, to the current question on the PostGlobal blog, and to Eric Umansky’s post “Deconstructing Bush.” In this short piece you will find my reading of this week’s turnabout by the current Bush administration, and some of my thinking about “Undoing Denial.”

Eric, I too have been researching torture. I’m glad to see your article has reached print; I have often followed up the links you supplied in Today’s Papers.

Deconstructing Bush on this past week’s speeches, I made a comment in the WP’s PostGlobal blog that I’d like to repeat here, lest it be lost in the crowd of argumentation there.

There is a major shift by the administration in taking responsibility for torture. To quote myself,

The hidden issue in the discussion on U.S. use of torture has been “Who is responsible for the torture of detainees at U.S. hands?” [By responsibility, I mean deliberative policy decisions, not “blame.”] Prior to this past week, responsibility has been laid at the few people photographed administering demeaning and painful treatment to prisoners at Abu Ghraib, after it was “Gitmoized.” It was never that the current President Bush was responsible for torture; hardly that Donald Rumsfeld was responsible; just barely that Alberto Gonzales had declared torture to be illegal. “Probably Bush doesn’t know,” we could reason. It was only in the little-noted signing statement to the McCain Amendment against torture that Bush (or his miniions in the White House) noted that the President could authorize torture.

Now, in this past week, in the run up to the 9/11, President Bush has come clean. Yes, the United States has used “alternative techniques” in the interrogation of “some” prisoners, and thus gotten good information. In one stroke, he has taken on the Jack Bauer (from the TV show “24”) mantle of “whatever it takes,” and put himself back on that mound of rubble of the twin towers.

Ten years ago, people who were tortured, such as Jewish (Maccabean) and Christian (Perpetua and Felicity) martyrs, were saints. Torturers were vile people who persecuted those who had different beliefs. Now the President, the executive voice of the people of the United States, says “Yes, we torture.” He voices full knowledge and responsibility for such acts; by extension, we as U.S. citizens are also responsible.

I concluded, to anyone reading through all the comments, “Please let this be a temporary aberration.”