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It is the New York Times and its editor, like General Scott, who believe they, not the elected President, get to make the call on national security. They have now done so by breaching security to reveal the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program and legal government efforts to track the finances of terrorists. To quote Serling writing for Lyman: “I don’t know whether to laugh at that kind of megalomania or simply cry.”
In real life no President has been forced from office by the American military. Were Seven Days in May to be written today the Usurpers would not be soldiers at all. They would be journalists. It is, after all, American journalists who crow that the proudest moment of their profession was forcing a duly-elected President out of office by resignation, the exact Scott proposition to President Lyman. Now, aided and abetted by a similarly unelected bureaucratic elite, journalists play the Scott role of The Usurper, in open rebellion against yet another President freely chosen by their fellow citizens. In an irony that even Serling might have trouble conjuring for The Twilight Zone, it is the New York Times and its editor that have effectively become The Usurper so stingingly rendered by the liberal Serling.
THIS GOVERNMENT IS HEMORRHAGING its national security secrets. This is happening because Mr. Keller and other journalists have combined with un-elected bureaucrats within the government who, just as with the fictional General Scott and his military cronies, hate the president and hate his foreign policy even more. Worse still, again like General Scott, these are people who have contempt for the idea at the very core of democracy: that the American people — a stunningly diverse population of men and women of all ages, races, educations, sexual persuasions, religions and political faiths — get to decide who will be, in the crude yet accurate words of Bush, “the decider.”
Yet the ultimate “decider” of these issues is in fact the American people. And the hard truth is that the New York Times believes, in the classic style of authoritarians everywhere, that only they themselves — the un-elected few — have the right to make these decisions.
As former National Security Agency director Admiral Bobby Inman said in a recent joint appearance with Keller on the PBS NewsHour, why are there no “consequences” for Keller’s actions? It is well past time to have this issue settled. Do the American people get to choose for themselves, in a lawful process that is fashioned out of open, public debate and elections, who will make decisions on what is or is not classified information? Or is this decision to be reserved for the voices of an un-elected elite behind the closed doors of an editorial office in Manhattan? Is there seriously a Democratic presidential candidate out there who really believes it’s just fine for the classified secrets of their own prospective — and thus duly elected — administration to start showing up on the front page of the Times? If so, now is the time for the rest of us to know this.
Do Hillary Clinton or Mark Warner or Russell Feingold plan to run a presidential campaign promising that one of the first acts of their presidency will be to let the unelected and undemocratically minded Mr. Keller of the New York Times decide what information should or should not be classified?
With the passage of time and the inevitable new story of the day — for the moment this means North Korea — there may well be a reluctance inside the Bush White House to pursue a Lymanesque hard line with The Times. Yet for the sake not only of this White House but future administrations there shouldn’t be that kind of reluctance. Either the duly elected government of the United States, freely chosen by its citizens, has the right to transparently make decisions on what should or should not be classified — or they don’t. If not, then why bother to have secrets at all? Why not just give all secrets to Mr. Keller and his journalistic cronies and be done with it?
While it is understandable the Bush White House might feel it has enough battles on its hands, this fight, which they did not pick, is one that both deserves to be fought and could bring election-year benefits as well. A little serious clarifying of who stands where on the issue of protecting the American people from terrorism is always a good fight to have. The idea that Democrats will defend to the American electorate the notion that the editor of theNew York Times gets to make these decisions and not the people of Altoona, Pennsylvania, or Richmond, Virginia, will be an interesting presentation from Democratic Senate candidates in those states — and many others where there are key races for the Senate and House.
THERE IS A QUICK AND EASY WAY to carry this debate about consequences to the next and now inevitable level.
Begin with a serious understanding that these real-life un-elected bureaucrats doing the leaking, every bit the actual counterparts of the fictional conspirators of Seven Days in May, are scattered through the select agencies that deal with national security issues. They are partially enabled by the physical presence on the premises of journalists who share their contempt for the duly elected government with all the passion so well acted by Burt Lancaster as General James Mattoon Scott.
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