The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

If you sit on your cards, you can't play

One of my professors reminded our class that when we graduate from college and move on to become industry professionals, we must retain our integrity and moral compass. Our product designs, if flawed from being rushed our other pressures could result in any number of deleterious effects on the company and the general public. The reminder was that greed and pride should not stand in the way of being the whistleblower when ethical misdeeds happen right in front of our face.

In our nation's highest office, the question that often arises is who will police the police? Perhaps the most publicized account from our parents' generation was Mark Felt's (Deep Throat) leading Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to lead the media's uncovering of scandals and misdeeds of the Nixon administration. In the 1970s presidential administrations had not yet learned how to strong arm the mass media, it was a time when investigative journalism was championed by a nation plagued by a credibility gap in its nation's highest ranks. Could Nixon have given himself immunity by citing extensive Presidential powers?

Actually he did.

Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal... Exactly. Exactly. If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security, or in this case because of a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude, then the president's decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating a law. Otherwise they're in an impossible position. - Richard Nixon

However, the media was not afraid. The overreaching of the Nixon administration did not go unnoticed or unpursued; Mark Felt's information led Nixon to become the first President of the United States to ever resign from office.

The Bush administration has been extraordinarily clever in this regard; the media has been reduced to a cowering group of journalists desperately hoping that the White House does not completely shut them out. Their response to investigative efforts by the new Woodward and Bernstein, the tag team of the traditional mass media and internet bloggers, has been to become increasingly insulated.

You can't hold someone accountable if nobody knows about it. However the only reasons why the Bush Administration would need to keep secrets is if disclosure of information was a vital matter of national security or if they were doing something wrong. To be fair, I want to believe that withholding information is a matter of national security; BUT why then has the administration disregarded following the legal means to perform such actions? The question as to why they would ignore the FISA courts which was specifically set up to authorize, even retroactively, such secret policies has been beaten to death by everyone who cares without informative answer. I think the more important question is if the domestic spying, financial spying, secret torture camps, etc. are so important, why have so many internal entities leaked information about them to the press?

If we are all able to agree that these policies are vital to our security, why have internal employees found it so desperately necessary to make sure that the public knows what is happening? Obviously more than one person is having an ethical dilemma; a dilemma so strong that they are in a way sacrificing national security.

"You actually deprive the decision makers and the president of the ability to get the full range of advice because - if the president has to worry that talking to people who have important things to say is going to result in something getting out - he's not going to have that conversation. And that's going to drive exactly the kind of insularity that the press claims they don't like"- Michael Chertoff

What Chertoff doesn't acknowledge is that the administration is already secretive and insulated. Most news organizations have been driven to the point where they are afraid that they will get blacklisted and forever cut off. Simply doing their job endangers their livelihood. So much for depending on the media to function as an independent check on the branches of government. Perhaps the White House would be wiser to observe that its pre-existing lack of transparency (and explanation for that matter) and ethically questionable behavior is the root cause of increased governmental leaks, investigation by the media, and public distrust. I don't know how long they can keep playing this game until the American public loses all patience.


  • At 8:17 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    I agree wholeheartedly. While I do believe that, at least on their face, the wiretapping and financial intelligence operations are important and necessary for our national security operations, I think that the executive branch is just as responsible as the media, if not more so, in that it should have prevented these leaks from occuring. The problem with increasingly secretive organizations is that they invite just this sort of trouble. Being more transparent about other things would have probably improved greatly their chances of keeping these programs secret, as it may have been necessary to do. But they've screwed themselves over time and time again, and have no chance of redeeming themselves now.

  • At 4:27 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    By the same token, if the NY Times did violate the law in releasing this information then they should be held accountable. They are no different than anyone else, and the members of the press fall under the same National Security laws that the rest of the population falls under.

  • At 1:12 AM, Blogger Wang said…

    I don't know what sort of position we fall into when the press is put into a situation where issues of great public interest are not brought to light because of possible gov't retribution. We don't know everything yet, but... if they broke the law, they broke the law.

    Answer me this though: what about this was illegal? President Bush has said numerous times over the last 5 years that they were tracking terrorists finances and banking transactions. The organization in question whose tactics were said to have been disclosed by the NYTimes, Swift, has a website and a magazine in which they also describe their efforts in fighting illegal uses of the financial system.

    So what happens when we find out that the monitoring program has been public information for 3 years now? Also how is the financial monitoring program hindered by its being reported on? Terrorists knew they were being financially tracked, Bush told them he was repeatedly.

  • At 1:33 AM, Blogger Wang said…
    that's the working address.


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