The Bush administration’s attempt to demonize the New York Times — a newspaper that gave the administration plenty of aid and comfort when the White House was spinning lies about WMDs in Iraq — will be remembered as one of the ugliest chapters in the history of press freedom in the United States.
The question that will ultimately be asked is not whether the Times did the right thing in revealing to the American people the details of Bush-authorized spying programs–by any measure, the newspaper was right to do what it did and history will provide more than enough vindication.
The ultimate question is this: When the White House, its allies in Congress and its echo chamber in the right-wing media attempted to intimidate mainstream outlets into keeping secret the details of invasions of privacy authorized by an out-of-control executive branch, did responsible members of Congress move to check and balance an irresponsible president?
The line is being drawn by a group of House Republicans, who are promoting a hastily-drawn resolution to condemn the Times.
Any member of the House who votes for the resolution will earn a place in history alongside the sponsors of the Alien and Sedition acts and other assaults on basic freedoms.
But how many members will stand strong for the First Amendment?
How many will do more than just vote right? How many will say this is a question of whether the U.S. House of Representatives supports freedom of the press?
One of the most outspoken members of the Congress — a member with a long record of standing up to both Democratic and Republican presidents when they have abused the Constitution — has answered with a stirring speech on the House floor.
On Wednesday, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said:
“This Administration is angry that the media leaked the story about it snooping into the bank records of millions of Americans. It supporters in Congress want to formally condemn the New York Times. What a bunch of baloney.
“It is about time the media did its job of protecting the public interest. If the media and this Congress had shown some independence from the party line of this Administration, the claims of WMDs would have been dismissed, and fact there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11 would have been well established and we would not have gone to war against Iraq.
“A few years ago, a movie, Wag the Dog, told of how a US administration misused its communications power to create phony stories to put the nation into an international conflict. This Administration not only wagged the dog in Iraq, but, with the help of its fabricators at the Rendon and Lincoln groups, it has wagging a whole kennel.
“In a free society the media cannot be a lap dog of any Administration. The First Amendment states, ‘Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech’, except of course, under this Administration.”