Bush Goes After The New York Times
By Matthew Rothschild

June 26, 2006

Back during the 1790s under the Alien and Sedition Acts, then during the Civil War and again during World War I, the government prosecuted editors.

It’s not a practice that thrills me, as an editor.

Nor should it thrill you, for that matter, because it’s about as blatant a violation of the First Amendment as there is.

But that didn’t stop Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, from wanting to get the cuffs out on the editors of The New York Times.

“We’re at war,” he said, “and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous.”

King said he would ask Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to “begin an investigation and prosecution of The New York Times—the reporters, the editors, and the publisher.”

Dick Cheney also dumped on the Times, saying that “some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs.” This most offensive Vice President said, “That offends me.”

Taking his cue from Cheney, as usual, Bush on Monday said, “For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America.” The revelation, he added, “makes it harder to win the war on terror.”

And Gonzales himself, who is supposed to be the leading law enforcement officer of the United States and is sworn to uphold the Constitution, has also been warning ominously about prosecuting journalists.

What King, Cheney, Bush, Gonzales, and many rightwing pundits don’t seem to appreciate is that we, the American people, need to have a free press to check the excesses of government.

Such a free press has never been needed more so than today, when the Bush Administration has taken excess to the nth degree.

To my eyes, The New York Times has not been aggressive enough. It held the NSA spying story for more than a year, and it let Judith Miller cozy up to the Iraq War cheerleaders and placed some of their propaganda on the front page.

“Our biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough,” Bill Keller, editor of the Times, acknowledged in a letter to readers on June 25.

He also revealed just how solicitous the Times has become of the Administration’s views.

“Our decision to publish the story of the Administration’s penetration of the international banking system followed weeks of discussion between Administration officials and The Times, not only the reporter who wrote the story but senior editors, including me,” Keller wrote. “We listened patiently and attentively. . . . We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it.”

But the President doesn’t deserve a seat at the editorial meetings of The New York Times—or any other newspaper. That is not his place. He is commander in chief, not editor in chief.

It is up to reporters, and editors, and publishers to decide what is news—not the branch of government they are supposed to be covering.

Once the President takes over that job, the fourth estate has lost its function.

So before Gonzales, Cheney, Bush, and King throw Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger Jr in the hoosegow, they might want to consult a copy the Constitution, if they can still find one lying around.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


White supremacist posters on campuses play on ignorance and fear within the very institutions that should be our...

Trump's politics are not the problem.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project