5/22/09

What's Old Is News

It strikes me as odd that former Vice President Dick Cheney enjoys continuously reigniting debates President Obama himself has deemed "in the past." If I were Dick Cheney, I would very much want to encourage the President to look "forward and not backwards," but instead, Cheney has chosen to become something of a media fixture, if not exactly a darling. I wasn't chomping at the bit to discuss the speech he delivered to the American Enterprise Institute yesterday, but, listening to him this morning and hearing myself described and dismissed as part of the "left wing" of the Democratic Party, I thought it might be wise to reiterate a few, tired but nonetheless important points.

First, Cheney asserts that criminal investigations of the Bush Administration would amount to a dangerous politicization of the Judicial branch. Is he being ironic? It is nearly taken for granted that no government since the Federalists has politicized judicial proceedings more than the Bush Administration. In fact, as I recall, some people were forced to resign over it.

In fact, perhaps the most harmful way to politicize the proceedings is for Democrats to not conduct inquiries fearing that they may pull Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and others into the maelstrom. As I've written on this blog before, any kind of witch hunt must be avoided at all costs, but simply dismissing the possibility of an inquiry because it might affect members of your own party would be a terrible mistake for the Democrats, all but confirming the cynicism Cheney accuses them of.

Second, Cheney asserts that the Obama Administration is not playing fairly, revealing only the "enhanced interrogation techniques" themselves and not the information that they yielded. Again and again Cheney asserts that these were vital intelligence gathering tools, made palatable by the exigencies of 9/11, whose success helped to prevent another attack of equal magnitude. This narrative is counter to reality. The techniques used in these "interrogations" were designed--during the Cold War, by the Communists--to elicit confessions, not information. The value of the information gathered through "enhanced interrogation" is dubious at best. At worst, it led to the invasion of Iraq based on erroneous evidence.

In a move so brazen it is hard to describe accurately, Cheney cited in his speech Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed's "bragging" about beheading journalist Daniel Pearle as evidence of his repugnant moral character, using this boast as proof that Mohammed got the treatment he deserved. Since there are so many clear examples of Khaleid Sheikh Mohammed's repugnant moral character, why choose the one that is possibly untrue, wrung out of the man through the use of hundreds of controlled drownings?

Again, is he being ironic? It's the fucking lede in the New Yorker story that broke open the CIA black sites. Jane Mayer wrote that "Mohammed claimed responsibility for so many crimes that his testimony became to seem inherently dubious. In addition to confessing to the Pearl murder, he said that he had hatched plans to assassinate President Clinton, President Carter, and Pope John Paul II."

And, of course, just for old times' sake, Cheney all but accused the New York Times of treason for reporting on the NSA's illegal, warrantless wiretapping program.

Which leads me to the thing that I actually wanted to blog about today: the Frontline documentary, "News War." Part One is an incredible, and incredibly depressing, look into the often contentious relationship between government and the media that became increasingly antagonistic under the Bush Administration. Part Two begins with the legal battle over the New York Times' and Washington Post's warrantless wiretapping stories. And Part Three looks closely at how new media--internet news, online video and, yes, blogs--drain revenue and eyeballs from traditional print media (who still bear the burden of actually reporting on things). Then, it turns its attention to the tragic downfall of the Los Angeles Times.

When I arrived in Los Angeles a few years ago, the Times was a rival to any news organization in the world. Now it is essentially a local paper with a vestigial, three-person Baghdad bureau. For me, the greatest shock of the whole documentary was that the Los Angeles Times is far from unprofitable. At the time the documentary was made, February 2007, it had a very healthy profit margin of 20%. The evisceration of the Times' newsroom was due to the fact that it was not growing its profit margin every year.

Better news next time. For now, look back in anger.

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