The Land of the Fee (sic) is showing how that “freedom of the press” stuff was all just a convenient jingle to get the great unwashed to become cannon fodder for that French-backed revolution they had a while back.
The US Justice Department is contemplating how it can lock up Julian Assange for embarrassing the US government. The only difficulty is that the US constitution is clear that arresting journalists is a pretty bad idea.
This is because the revolution was helped thanks to the propaganda techniques of the publisher Paul Revere who was responsible for putting a wholesome gloss on what was a self-motivated rebellion against popular British rule.
Kenneth Wainstein, former assistant attorney general on national security, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing about Wikileaks said that by showing how Wikileaks is fundamentally different, the government should be able to demonstrate that any prosecution here is the exception and is not the sign of a more aggressive prosecution effort against the press.
Currently senators are baying for blood. They want the 1917 Espionage Act to be revised to make it easier to prosecute recipients of classified information.
However the problem here is that pesky First Amendment. If Assange can be prosecuted for espionage for publishing such information, there is no reason why a similar prosecution couldn’t be made against other news organisations for doing the same thing.
But Wainstein claimed that Wikileaks is not a news outlet. He said that while traditional media focus on publishing newsworthy information to educate the great unwashed, Wikileaks focuses on obtaining and disclosing any official secrets.
While the media also gather news about sensitive areas of government operations through investigative reporting, Wikileaks uses encrypted digital drop boxes to encourage disclosures of sensitive government information and circumvent laws prohibiting such disclosures.
The traditional media also limit disclosures only to sensitive information that specifically relates to a particular story deemed to be of public importance. Wikileaks whacks the lot up with no regard for their relevance.
Assange’s oft-quoted remark that he “enjoys crushing bastards” is evidence that his release of sensitive information is a personal rather than a public-minded agenda, Wainstein said.
What the US government is hoping is that any judge will have in her or his mind a concept of a newspaper and therefore show Wikileaks is not one. But, to do that, a judge has to ignore an inconvenient truth about even traditional media. All of them, if they had access to diplomatic cables would print them. They might tart them up a bit with a story, but print them they must.
You cannot claim that a newspaper is a spy because it does a half-arsed job of presenting the facts. No one in the US senate would consider someone working for a tabloid less of a journalist than someone working for the Wall Street Journal.
Politicians, nor judges, have no power to define what a newspaper is. A newspaper is anything that prints something that you don’t know. Paul Revere’s rags would not have been considered newspapers by the British, any more than Wikileaks would be considered a newspaper by the US establishment. However they clearly are.
Certainly the effects of the leaks have shown cushy politicians have it when it comes to traditional news. They can spin, control, leak, release information when they like. Wikileaks however showed the horrible truth about what was going on in Washington.
However some of the witnesses at the hearing have noticed that pointed out that many of the cables published so far have contained information that should not have been classified and took aim at the government’s routine over-classification of documents.
Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, indicated that as a result of so much secrecy, leaks to the press had become one of the primary ways for the public to be kept informed about what its government is doing.
What is a little more alarming is that Congress is considering a change to the Shield Act, which Congress has been mulling as an amendment to the Espionage Act. The amendment would make it illegal to publish the names of informants who provide information to the military and intelligence agencies.
While this would appear OK on the surface, if the law was applied to non-government persons, it would suppress their right to free speech.
It seems that the US needs to wake up to the fact that if you have a free society which was peddled as being important during the tea tax rebellion, you can’t turn around a couple of hundred years later and say “we made a mistake we really do want to control you”. It means that all those people who were duped into fighting the British for freedom, actually replaced one mild “tyranny” for one which was much worse. Ironically that makes Animal Farm, George Orwell’s satire about Communism more applicable to the United States.