Thursday, May 22, 2014

Servility and Sourpusses

Once again, I'm honored to be guest posting at the awesome Freedom of the Press Foundation:

Glenn Greenwald spends the last third of his excellent new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State, exposing the mentality and function of pseudo-journalists like David Gregory who are in fact better understood as courtiers to power. So it was kind of Michael Kinsley to offer himself up today as living proof of Greenwald's arguments.

In a New York Times book review, Kinsley says:

The question is who decides [what to publish]. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

Pause for a moment to let that sink in. How can the government have ultimate decision-making power consistent with the First Amendment with regard to the publication of leaks? As Kinsley himself goes on to say, "You can't square this circle." Indeed. Unless you believe the government should be able to impose prior restraint on the publication of anything it deems secret. Unless you want to argue that the Constitution should be amended accordingly. Unless you believe the government should have been able to prevent the publication of, say, the Pentagon Papers (it certainly tried).

By the way, that "in a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are)" is worth pausing to consider. Not just for the pretentious use of pace, which I admit is amusing, but more for the childlike notion that America is a democracy and there's nothing more to be said about it. It's almost like Kinsley has never heard of gerrymandering, or doesn't understand that when voters are no longer choosing their politicians and politicians are now choosing their voters, democracy isn't what's at work. It's almost like he's never heard of former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson's argument that modern America is best understood as an oligarchy (pro tip for Kinsley: oligarchies and democracies are not the same thing). It's almost like he's never even heard of Noam Chomsky (more on whom below — for now, suffice to say that Chomsky is great at explaining people like Kinsley, who are simultaneously sophisticated about irrelevancies and simple-minded about fundamentals).

Anyway, never fear, "No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay."

“Whatever it turns out to be”? Kinsley has already explained the “decision must ultimately be made by the government." By comparison, does it really matter what specific mechanism the government then decides on? This is a lot like conceding that the government should have the power to execute American citizens without any recognizable due process, then confining the argument merely to mechanics (Terror Tuesdays, anyone? Due Process just means there is a process that you do?). In both cases, the government’s arguments and those of its media flunkies are indistinguishable.

(Again, see Chomsky below on the propagandistic technique of narrowing the range of acceptable debate, and then permitting vigorous discussion only within that narrow range.)

And here's a bit of the current reality of what Kinsley breezily refers to as a government "usually overprotective of its secrets..."

Read the rest at Freedom of the Press, an organization deserving of your support.

1 comment:

NWA said...

Here is something the USG does as far as pre-clearance that I find ridiculous: The USG wants to approve any and all publications from anyone who ever held an upper level clearance.

I mean they want to pre-clear your books (every topic with the exceptions of cook books and gardening), your blog posts, your resumes, interviews, etc.

Does this strike anyone else as absurd? For the rest of my life, (I was a military intelligence officer in the Army) the USG has veto authority over all my free speech that isn't related to baking snicker doodles.

The genesis behind all this is probably that "No Easy Day" book written by a SEAL that helped off UBL. That guy didn't pre-clear and the Pentagon lost its mind. I got an e-mail saying "That book may contain classified material" and I shouldn't comment on it publically.

As a marketing move, skipping the pre-clearance was brilliant.

Having the USG sign off on non-fiction spy guy stuff is one thing, but waiting for some GS schlub to bless off on my historical war novel about the Red Baron is ludicrous.

Barry, do you still bother with pre-clearance?

I don't.