In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The press is the only thing keeping the politicians honest.It is our best and only chance of deterring corruption in government.
Today the Senate passed a bill to expand President Bush’s surveillance authority and grant legal immunity to the telecommunications companies that colluded with him in his warrantless domestic spying program.
The bill was an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, first signed into law in 1978. Before FISA, government eavesdropping on civilian phone conversations was common. Info collected from these private conversations was then used to blackmail public figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders.
Why spy on MLK? He certainly wasn’t a deranged terrorist plotting deadly attacks against the American people. The real threat posed by civil rights movement was that it sought to make the world a fairer place. And nothing bugs affluent white men like the threat of fairness, and its implications on their monopoly on wealth and power. We may never know if there were other would-be MLKs, stifled into submissive silence by the secrets collected about them.
FISA 1978 established a legal process in which probable cause was needed in order to obtain a warrant to listen in on our phone calls. After 9/11, the Bush administration broke the law by ignored FISA, and today the U.S. Senate retroactively declared that the President’s breaches were legal.
Nowadays, they are privy to more than our conversations. Anything you do with your cell phone is up-for-grabs (as well as whatever you do on your PC, but that’s a different issue, I think). Republican Senator Kit Bond assured us that there is nothing to worry about “unless you have al-Qaeda on your speed dial.” Just like there was nothing to worry about before as long as we were U.S. citizens. Only no one buys the feel-good caveats now. That’s the thing about governments that lie to their people. The people (should they possess any semblance of a brain stem or spinal cord) stop believing.
That’s where I am now, not believing. And trying to cope with my naiveté and disappointment, a bummed out loss of innocence that rivals that first Xmas after my parents came clean, when I knew there was no Santa Claus but still loved the myth for its magic. And I almost want to hold that magic, live on in the remnants of a lie that still feels real. But when the mirage vanishes, the tingles go away, too. All along, the jolly role model we believed in was just some laughing asshole in a costume.
We were punked! And who can we trust when our President breaks the law and 69% our Senate approves with a wink and a nod and a bullshit promise to protect us from the terrorists they created? The answer brings me back to the Jefferson quote about the free press being central to a healthy democracy. “We The People” can only stay strong and proud as long there’s a press to inform us, to invigorate us with the truth—even (or especially) when it’s painful in an unprecedented way.
But there was no free press tonight to inform the uninformed. Years ago the press auctioned away its freedom, and the audience wouldn’t divvy up. Instead of exposing the liars and their witch hunts, the way Edward R. Murrow once did, today’s talking heads wave just wave them right on through. Today’s most newsworthy event—the FISA striptease—was never going to be tonight’s “top story.” If they had to, Fox would create one. That way they wouldn’t have to mention FISA. Fox knew that if they kept the cameras rolling and the mics hot, it would only be a short while before one of their famous guests would fuck up in some minor way, handing Fox News a sound bite they could spin into a “current event.” A Bounty Hunter might reveal some inner disdain for blacks; another radio host could blurt out “nappy headed hoes.” Or maybe Jesse Jackson will mumble something about cutting off Barack Obama’s balls. Bingo.