Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Monday, May 22, 2006

Be Afraid

First, from a propaganda piece in Sundays B'ham News:

Assorted critics, taking a break from castigating the Bush administration for doing too little to protect the homeland, are now castigating it for doing too much. How dare the NSA receive without benefit of a court order telephone logs from AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon? Even though the records were anonymous and did not include the contents of any calls (Verizon and BellSouth have now denied offering any information at all), hyperventilating worrywarts fret that fascism has descended.

Second, from CNN today:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security. . . ." It can't be the case that [the right to freedom of the press] trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity," Gonzales said.

So, would a country where the government prosecutes as criminals news papers that publish unfavorable stories be more like a democracy? Or a fascist state, a state "marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism?" In your answer, be sure to account for the following quote from Thomas Jefferson:

The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Sure they say the prosecutions would only be for publishing stuff that threatens national security, but think about how well the administration has evaluated previous threats. For example, "The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says." The FBI considers peace activists to be threats to national security. If you criticize the president, you might be a traitor. Finally, here is Dubya himself on how well the administration evaluated the threat posed by Iraq: "It is true that many nations believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong."

But, hey, Iraq has worked out fine anyway. So who cares if the administration similarly evaluates the threat posed by newspapers. We can trust them with the power to censor the press. They are honest and competent. And every subsequent administration will also be trustworthy, right? I mean, even if HRC wins in '08, we can feel safe. We have nothing to fear. This is the government, they know what is best, and most importantly, they are here to help.