Saturday, May 10, 2008

Strange bedfellows

I've remarked at times that civil liberties and privacy are areas where left and right occasionally fold back on each other and cross. This is an example, although I admit to being (pleasantly) surprised by from what quarters some of the support is coming. On the other hand, something else it does is show the difference between actual conservatives, even right wing ones, and the reactionary cabal of proto-fascists that make up the WHS* and its true believer 28% base.
An unusual cast of conservatives has added momentum to a bill that would protect the confidentiality of reporters’ sources, even as the Bush administration has lobbied vigorously against the idea[, says Saturday's New York Times].

The latest flashpoint in the debate came Friday in an appellate courtroom in Washington, as a former reporter for USA Today [named Toni Locy] faced fines of $5,000 a day for refusing to disclose the sources of her articles on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2001 anthrax investigation.

A conservative judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Brett M. Kavanaugh, a former Bush White House official, offered perhaps the broadest defense of reporters’ rights during oral arguments in the case.
John McCainslewabel has offered support - albeit it “narrow” - for a federal shield law offering at least some protection for journalists protecting confidential sources. What's more,
[a] federal shield law passed the House last year by a veto-proof margin of 398 to 21, with a conservative Republican - Representative Mike Pence of Indiana - leading the effort. ...

Shielding reporters’ confidential sources, Mr. Pence said, “is not about protecting reporters; it’s about protecting the public’s right to know.”
So even conservatives can understand how a free press can, at least in theory, function as a counterweight to government power. (Be sure to note that I said in theory.)

And, contrary to what might appear on the surface, so can the White House gang - which is precisely why they are so dead set against any such protections, even weak ones.
The Justice Department has devoted a special page on its Web site to the issue, and six cabinet-level officials in the administration have written recent letters voicing their concerns about the legislation.
The claims are standard-issue, by-now-banal, "the terrorists are coming" fear-mongering, claiming a shield law would "wreak havoc" on national security and would provide “a safe haven for foreign spies and terrorists,” a charge I admit to having a great deal of difficulty puzzling out what it's supposed to mean. Still, the opposition has given Harry "The Weasel" Reid pause: His spokesman will say only that "it's on our to-do list" and they "hope" to get to it "as soon as we can." Ooh, I'm a-flutter with anticipation.

What makes this timidity all the more galling is that even some GOPpers are getting ticked off by the heavy-handed lobbying.
“I’ve been around a while, and I’ve never seen such an avalanche of letters coordinated in such an unrealistic, emotional, unwarranted attack on a piece of legislation,” Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and supporter of the shield law, said in an interview Friday.
Observing Locy's case, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said
“We’ve been trying to argue a common-law privilege for four years now, and who would have thought that it would be Brett Kavanaugh who seized on that?

“Classic conservatives recognize that the media plays a role in overseeing what the government is up to,” Ms. Dalglish said.
"Classic" conservatives, yes. Left and right may and do disagree on the extent and precise form of that role, on how far it (and the associated public right to know) should go, and exactly what sorts of protections for reporters might be needed - but we will agree that the role exists and is an important one. As Thomas Jefferson said (and, unlike some such quotes of noted persons, he actually did say it) "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" - because, he said later, "our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it."

All of which together should serve to point up a real difference between genuine conservatives, who actually believe in open debate, and the power-worshipping vermin without conscience who lay claim to the name now.

Footnote: Speaking of Jefferson, in the fall of 1785, he wrote this to one G. K. van Hogendorp:
The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers... [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper.
Sound like any condition with which you are familiar?

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

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