Until thirty seconds ago, I didn't know what I was going to write about the latest White House Letter or if I would mention it at all. I've been known to skip a few after all. Then I saw Glenn Greenwald's post (via Atrios) on Abu Gonzales' naked threat to journalists in which he says straight out that if a journalist is considered to have damaged national security interest (whatever that means) Team BushCo has the right and the obligation to prosecute that journalist. Okay, that's almost old news. Certainly we've been building to that announcement anyway. Here's the truly scary part:
The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.
Combined with what Brian Ross and Richard Esposito reported last week, that's as good as an admission that the White House is currently tracking down reporters' phone records expressly for the purpose of sealing leaks. Or they aren't, but they want to send the message that one never knows what Big Brother is up to or capable of so be careful.
Hold on, my internal editor says. You can't have it both ways. They're bad if they're tracking journalists' calls and they're bad if they aren't. My internal editor is right. The White House, if they are only guilty of pretending to be tracking down reporters' calls via their (ineffective and illegal) domestic spying program, is really guilty of nothing worse than punking America.
If that feels wrong to you, it's because it is wrong. I'm just saying there's no penalty for the federal government leaking a false confession and sending their top law-talkin' dude out to make empty threats against journalists. And I'm not going to blame the White House for playing this game, if that is, in fact, what they're doing. I blame the corporate media for not standing up to it because they are the part of our society that is supposed to protect us against exactly this kind of brinkmanship. It's their fault that we're failing to make the connections that let us see that the goal isn't to actually arrest any journalists but to create an atmosphere where talking about the federal government arresting journalists for doing their jobs is okay.
If Bill Keller and the rest of the big thinkers in the corporate media heard on Sunday, as we all did, that Abu G. was making noise about arresting journalists for doing their jobs, then he should have been up all night working on a lead editorial or, at the very least, something for his Q&A column, which hasn't been updated since May 9. You'd think he'd do it for moral building purposes alone.
Can you imagine being a reporter, say James Risen or Eric Lichblau, (or Dana Priest or Leslie Cauley for that matter) and hearing that you're in Abu's crosshairs? That would be bad enough, I imagine, until you experience the deafening public silence from your editors. Risen and Lichtblau were even singled out by the mighty Abu again:
Gonzales told ABC that his department is trying to determine "the appropriate court of action" relating to the disclosure by The New York Times about a National Security Agency surveillance program.
The Times reported that the attorney general did not name the statutes but apparently was referring to espionage laws that have never been used to prosecute journalists. The Times said some legal scholars also feel prosecuting reporters under the laws might violate the First Amendment.
It sounds like Keller is in the middle of kicking this one down the road, hoping for the best. We've seen where that road goes. It ends up a year later with wistful apologies filled with if-only-we-had-knowns. This particular road might be longer than a year but eventually we're going to be living in a country where the suggestion that journalists be wiretapped and arrested for doing their jobs is greeted with delerious applause rather than the apathetic silence it gets from the body politic today.
As for the White House Letter, today was all about Fox News and whether it is the only White House-approved media outlet . Elisabeth Bumiller writes about a "new era" dawning when Jim Vandehai asked if FOX were the only station allowed on White House televisions, including Air Force One. Predictably nobody admits to anything. No questions are answered. But in the end the televisions get turned to CNN and Tony Snow engages in some Kabuki with his old FOX friend Carl Cameron. Ms. Bumiller is elated. This is what passes for a victory for the corporate media today.
I hope when future journalists are detained for endangering national security, they can remember whom they have to thank when they notice that all the TVs in the brand new Halliburton-built detention facility are tuned to something other than FOX.