Monday, June 26, 2006

Destroying the Constitution to save it

Michael Barone makes a curious argument in this essay damning the New York Times and other newspapers for publishing accounts of the Bush administration's financial surveillance program. The terrorists, Barone writes, hate us because of our freedoms. So in order to protect against the terrorists, the administration needs to punish journalists who exercise those freedoms:

Publication of the Times' December and June stories appears to violate provisions of the broadly written, but until recently, seldom enforced provisions of the Espionage Act. Commentary's Gabriel Schoenfeld has argued that the Times can and probably should be prosecuted.

The counterargument is that it is a dangerous business for the government to prosecute the press. But it certainly is in order to prosecute government officials who have abused their trust by disclosing secrets, especially when those disclosures have reduced the government's ability to keep us safe. And pursuit of those charges would probably require reporters to disclose the names of those sources. As the Times found out in the Judith Miller case, reporters who refuse to answer such questions can go to jail.

It's been said that irony died when Henry Kissinger won a Nobel Peace Prize. But must we keep flailing away at the corpse?


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