Hitchens: Right Sentiment, Wrong (Terribly, Terribly Wrong) Example
Christopher Hitchens chides those who call the NY Times treasonous (and for the record, I’m not among them: I think the Times is dripping with anti-Bush sentiment (can that even be in dispute at this point?), but it’s not treasonous to hate a President (as opposed to the institution of the Presidency, say)). Hitchens has equally strong words for those defenders of the Times, however, who base their defense on the wrong-headed view that national security was harmed by the ‘outing’ of Valerie Plame as an example of conservative hypocrisy:
In encounters with various conservatives this past week, I have come to realize that they are entirely serious about regarding the “MSM,” in particular the New York Times under the editorship of Bill Keller, as not just objectively treasonable but subjectively so—in other words, as being consciously hostile to the Bush administration’s war aims. This issue has also given the right-wing rank and file something to really gnaw upon, and I expect it will be with us all the way up to, and including, the fall elections. What a pity, therefore, that the conflict is so wrongly counterposed and can lead only to demagoguery on one side and hypocrisy on the other.
A letter from the various deans of American journalism schools, published in the “Outlook” section of Sunday’s Washington Post, neatly illustrates some of the false antitheses. Making a strong case for the right of disclosure and the pitfalls of prior restraint, the signatories nonetheless feel obliged to stipulate an instance where “national security” should have trumped the initial disclosure itself. Can you guess the example they used? It was obviously wrong, they say, for Robert Novak to have revealed the identity of Valerie Plame!
This is both ridiculous and suicidal. It appears to admit that there is a case for self-muzzling by the media but only in a case where the nation’s security was not endangered. A serious controversy persists as to whether Joseph Wilson himself endangered national security by repeatedly misstating the facts about the Iraq-Niger connection. In order for that controversy to be fully ventilated, the extent of his connection to the CIA must be fully known. Whether Novak meant to blow Plame’s cover or not (and as it happens it seems that he did not), he would have been well within his journalistic rights to do so. Our enemies would have acquired no advantage from the information, and the readers of the press would have been better informed on a major question. The CIA’s attempt to criminalize the information was itself part of an interdepartmental war within the administration, which it is the right of every citizen to know about.
Hitchens points out how quickly the truly relevant case of Judy Miller was dropped by the Left, for the sin of her being ‘on the wrong side’ of the war:
And on that point, a New York Times journalist really did go to jail. Some of the paper’s columnists now throw out a big chest about the hatred and threats that their editor is enduring, but it is very unlikely indeed that Keller will be charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. Judy Miller went to the joint on the elementary matter of protecting a source and was “let go” by the Times shortly after her release. And if you want to talk about hate mail, you should see the deranged way in which liberals and anti-warriors have been accusing her of invading Iraq all on her own. In other words, it’s too late for Frank Rich to pretend that this is Spiro Agnew versus the Pentagon Papers. His newspaper has begun the argument at least one rung down from the brave old days, because it has already endorsed a special-prosecutor official-secrecy witch hunt on a trivial question.
Ahh, Hitchens…would that we had more like him!…