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“I want your resignation tonight,” President Lyman snaps at General Scott. Eventually, overwhelming evidence in hand, he gets it. In that spirit, the spirit of the fictional President Jordan Lyman as channeled by liberal Rod Serling, the Bush White House should lay out a series of “Lyman Reforms” to keep this issue front and center until it is finally resolved. They should take these reforms straight to the voting public. Bring everything out in the open. Insist on public debate.
So, absent the unlikely follow-through on a charge of treason, what would a series of “Lyman Reforms” look like? How to really get at the violators and the oxygen they need in which to conspire? If the Lyman Reforms are breached, what happens when the punishment trigger is pulled? Here are a few suggestions.
* If you publish information that has been classified by a process established by law — which is to say a process approved by the elected representatives of the American people — your newspaper will lose the press passes that allows the paper’s reporters physical access to the White House, State and Defense Departments and the CIA for a set period of time. Every American has the right to dissent. No one, of course, has a right to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Jordan Lyman’s firing of General Scott vividly illustrated. Having had one, I can say with certainty that no one has a right to a White House pass, either, whether they be staff or press. Mr. Keller certainly has a clear First Amendment right to undermine a president in wartime, just as General Scott had a First Amendment right to undermine President Lyman by publicly disagreeing over national security. But the Times’ privileged access to the White House is no more valid than Scott’s right to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Nor do Times reporters have a First Amendment right to roam the Pentagon and the State Department with press credentials swinging from their necks.
* If you publish, you’re grounded. Every time an American official of any note is seen a distant somewhere outside of Washington, D.C. it means they flew there on a government aircraft. There is no First Amendment right for journalists to fly with the President of the United States on either Air Force One or the accompanying press plane. Ditto flying with the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense on the endless globe trotting that is now a standard feature of the modern world. If Condoleezza Rice is meeting with her German counterpart in Berlin, the Times reporter should fly commercial. If Donald Rumsfeld is headed for Moscow or Riyadh, the Times reporter should not be sharing the privilege — get that word privilege — of being waited on hand and foot by Air Force stewards while having cozy conversations with the Secretary en route.
* News Advisory: You’re Off the List. Every government agency has a series of specific tools they use to communicate with the media. These include but are not limited to the privilege — again that word — of being on a list that provides for instant notification by the agency’s press office of a pending or ongoing news event. Without this simple tool a journalist is required to do the basic spade work himself. Your paper published classified information? You have a right to ask your government anything you want. You have no right to be spoon-fed. Since your paper is banned from having a reporter in the government building anyway, pick up the phone and give the press office a call. Your competition miles ahead of you? Call your editor who authorized publishing classified information and complain.
* Let the public in on editorial decisions about classified leaks. If the un-elected editor of the New York Times has a right to see classified information and make a judgment as to whether Americans have a right to know, then Americans have a right to see what goes on in theNew York Times and decide for themselves what the public has a right to know. Why no C-SPAN cameras in the Times offices of Mr. Keller? Newspapers, of all things, should be transparent. To say the public has a right to know — but not what we at the Times know — is the height of hypocrisy. The schedule of every U.S. President’s business and social life is public information. Why can’t we see the exact same information for the New York Times editors and reporters who have taken it on themselves to privately make decisions on our national security issues? Why are Mr. Keller’s life and dealings not open to sunlight? Why is knowledge about his dealings on classified information, and those of his reporters, kept from the public? There is always a public interest with people of power, and General Kel…ahhh…Mr. Keller and his co-conspirators are surely those.
And so on.
IT’S TIME TO TAKE THIS ISSUE head-on. The Times wanted a debate and now it has one. The Bush administration should suspend — but not revoke — any special privileges granted to New York Times reporters. “Suspend the privileges” is French for “yank ‘em.” Take them away. Lift them. Cut off the travel on government planes. Make Times reporters call in for news advisories, speech texts, lists of casualties in Iraq. For how long? The rest of the year? Why not when the Bush term is almost up, say until January 1, 2009? The Times will then have 19 days to get their bearings again in a White House that will soon be occupied by a new President.
It is not for the government to demand that the Times open up its internal discussions on classified information to the rest of the public in the public interest. That demand should be made by the public, whose lives are now at risk because of these closed-door editorial decisions. The recent revelation of the plot to destroy New York train tunnels only emphasizes the point.
First step? Make Times reporters turn their privileged credentials in personally to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. If they need a reason, tell them that after reading an advisory letter from Editor James Mattoon Keller, it has been decided that removing the Times’ physical access to these sensitive agencies is in “the public interest.” Then, to borrow a phrase from that sterling defender of national security secrets, Valerie Plame’s husband, have the uniformed Secret Service “frog march” said paper’s reporters down the White House driveway and out the gates. Then quickly accredit a dozen papers of the un-elite corps to take their place.
When the inevitable protest goes up from the same authoritarian-minded journalists who wanted Scooter Libby’s head and now have mysteriously ended up with “scoops” about classified information, someone at the Justice Department should be adding their names as “persons of interest” in a criminal investigation. Yes indeed. Lock these folks up until we get the names from them of those who have self-selected themselves within the government to endanger the lives of my family and yours by playing real life as if this were a Rod Serling script.
George Bush’s staff should take a page from Rod Serling’s Jordan Lyman. They should challenge their elected boss’s hidden antagonists inside his own government — our government — to come out into the sunshine and klieg lights. If these self-appointed pillars of virtue feel so utterly passionate about the rights of their fellow Americans to know what is going on in the high councils of government then they should begin by proudly showing themselves to all of us instead of hiding behind the New York Times. How about a congressional hearing with a row of empty chairs behind the witness table, daring the leakers to show up and talk in public? If they want the authority to make these decisions on our behalf they should have the guts to come out of dark alleys and closed editorial offices where they whisper to the strutting journalistic egoists who hide their names from the public. They should look us all in the eye, resign their jobs and speak directly to us all in the limelight they secretly crave.
At a minimum Mr. Keller and his fellow editors should stare into the TV cameras at least as often as any President does and take questions from — gasp! — the press! All of it. Selected appearances with members of the like-minded journalistic fraternity that has contempt for George Bush counts as much as a Bush press conference where the only questions come from Karl Rove.
Perhaps these Serlingesque hobgoblins who are feeding these leaks in violation of the law should even risk resigning and putting their name on a ballot in the state of their birth or allegiance or convenience. And no, the District of Columbia is not a state.
Do they — the leakers and journalist Usurpers — have the guts for any of this? Does James Mattoon Keller?
Only in The Twilight Zone</.+I>.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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