Dunce caps and petards

First published 01 Jul 2006

Use of First Amendment rights for slander, rather than to effect social enhancement is inappropriate.

  • Those exercising the freedom of the press have an obligation to exercise it judiciously.
  • Slander under the guise of First Amendment liberty may cause detriment to future generations.

The New York Times and other of the major media have been irresponsible in publishing sensitive government information concerning covert programs. There has been no demonstration of wrong doing and no internal reforms have been initiated because of the disclosures. Thus, the disclosures have been ineffective, have only caused controversy and have damaged the media more than the Bush Administration. Recent Congressional censure of the media may have the effect of hoisting them upon their own petards.

The major media is being irresponsible in making these disclosures, hoping for the next `Watergate` or whatever the next infamy-gate will be called. They are being irresponsible, not so much for the disclosure as for the hype that they attempt to generate. By publishing stories where they, themselves, have to admit that there was no illegality of government activity, they open themselves to the severest of criticism.

By using sources who are committing treason to provide the source material; by advancing spurious charges that must later be withdrawn; by rushing to smear with allegations of illegality that most consider reasonable tactics, the media IS being irresponsible. They deserve a dunce cap and a time-out.

I don`t pretend to have studied the allegations and defenses closely enough to attempt to say who`s right and who`s wrong. The simple observation is that the attacks have done no damage to the Bush Administration. If anything, the public thinks that the activities are tactically appropriate and do not jeopardize civil liberty. They have demonstrated that the Bush Administration is being active and vigilant. The hype has been overblown and largely ignored by all but the most leftward extremists.

Most of us are familiar with the dunce cap. It`s a cone shaped cap used to humiliate someone for displaying bad behavior. But, most of us probably aren`t familiar with a petard. Even those who have heard the expression, `hoisted on his own petard` don`t associate the petard as a cone shaped object. Several centuries ago, a petard was a cone filled with explosives, placed against a palace or town gate / wall and ignited to demolish the gate so that invading forces might gain entry. If the petard was improperly set or misfired, it could have the effect of backfiring and killing the invader, rather than opening the gate. Shakespeare preserved the expression in Hamlet (III iv).

The major media is attempting to use disclosures of sensitive material as petards to breach the integrity of the Bush Administration and bring down the administration in disgrace. Spare the `right to know` and `free press` lamentations. The agenda is patent. I`m not even saying that the agenda is improper.

The NY Times gets a Times-out
The reason that the stories are irresponsible have to do with the injudicious use of the freedom of the press. By slinging mud with every possible disclosure, you jeopardize the very liberty that you abuse. Congressional censure should be a wake-up call that your actions are providing a rationale and justification for legislation that will curtail First Amendment liberty.

No, I don`t suggest that there will be any Constitutional changes to the First Amendment. I will even say that there will never be any law to abridge the press` right to publish. But, there need not be to achieve the same result. Politicians can be nefarious. That`s why the press is so important. The public needs the press to expose corruption. But, if the press exercises the First Amendment without self control, the result will be legislation that provides collateral attack to the First Amendment. For example, Congress can pass a law that prohibits the possession and disclosure of certain classifications of material. You won`t be prosecuted for printing the information but you will be prosecuted for possession and disclosure.

Decisions such as In Re Providence Journal Co., 800 F2d 1342 have already limited a reporter`s privilege from revealing sources. A determined prosecution will chip at the penumbra`s of the First Amendment. The statement, “The First Amendment has a penumbra where privacy is protected from governmental intrusion” (Joseph A. Califano, Jr.)`` will prove meaningless.

Additionally, needless disclosures provide an Administration defense if, G-d forbid, there is another terrorist attack. The Administration WILL say that the leaks prevented interdiction and forestalling of the attack. Certainly not what the media desires.

I do not ask that the media refuse to publish anything, just because the government asks. However, it is incumbent upon all who exercise the freedom of the press to do it judiciously, to preserve for all posterity that which they now enjoy. To do otherwise will be to hoist themselves on their own petards.
















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