So last week, the New York Times (later joined by the LA Times) slashes on its front page the secret details of a legal program to track financial transactions by terrorists. The editor of the NY Times defends himself against charges of aiding and abetting terrorists by claiming that the media have a responsibility and a power to expose what the government is doing, no matter what the circumstances.
And yet the people who invented this country saw an aggressive, independent press as a protective measure against the abuse of power in a democracy, and an essential ingredient for self-government. They rejected the idea that it is wise, or patriotic, to always take the President at his word, or to surrender to the government important decisions about what to publish. The power that has been given us is not something to be taken lightly. The responsibility of it weighs most heavily on us when an issue involves national security, and especially national security in times of war.
Freedom of the press is a right guaranteed to the people not to any particular industry. The Constitution gives no particular powers to the media establishment. They are an unelected and self-appointed watchdog which has arrogated to itself the right to decide how the war should be conducted and whether secret, but legal, programs to catch terrorists should be made public. It’s one thing to expose blatant criminality and misconduct, but quite to burn a perfectly good program on the chance that it may morph into something inappropriate.
Short memories and a flip flop
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