Investigative Journalism: A Newspaper’s Finest Hour
In a democracy government has the obligation to conduct its business in accordance with the prevailing rules of lawful conduct. In the United States that set of rules is our Federal Constitution, the contract to which the governed, and those who would govern, have agreed to adhere. In essence, those who would enforce the law, must live by it.
It was no coincidence that the Founding Fathers placed a very high priority on the guaranty of a free and unfettered Press, and, in fact, made that right one of the subjects of the first of ten amendments to the constitution, comprising the Bill of Rights. Under the First Amendment, that established freedom of speech and association, the right to a free and independent press was specifically guaranteed, thus ensuring a perpetual “watchdog” over the activities of government.
It’s the primary responsibility, indeed, the mandate, of a free press, as protected under the First Amendment, to vigilantly observe and report the conduct of government, without favor or exception. Not since Daniel Ellsberg
and the “Pentagon Papers,” in the 1970’s have we seen such controversy over the Times, or any newspaper’s exposure of the federal government’s unconstitutional and illegal activity.
Unfortunately, whether for reasons of rivalry and competition, or simply their failure to perceive the underlying threat to our free society posed by a culpable, muted press, major New York newspapers, The Post, and The
Daily News, have attacked the Old Gray Lady as treasonous and disloyal, for exposing the Administration’s unlawful, covert activities in their attempt to track the finances of persons suspected of supporting terrorism.
Thomas Sowell, a Post columnist who can usually be counted upon for a reasonable approach in such matters, went so far as to refer to “The Times’ Anti-Patriots,” insisting, “Americans may be dying” because of what terrorists have learned from them.
Sowell attacks “the public’s right to know” as a mere hollow excuse, and naively dismisses any notion that terrorist operatives might well have suspected that their money transfers were under American government
surveillance. He cites the revelation during World War II, by the Chicago Tribune that the United States had figured out the Japanese Code, as a comparable betrayal of an important government secret. He then, incredibly
remarks, “Fortunately, for this country, the Japanese didn’t read the Tribune, or didn’t believe it.”
What Thomas Sowell, and others who espouse his position, should know from history, is that in a free society those who represent themselves as observers and reporters of critical newsworthy events, cannot presume
to manage the news, to pick and choose that which they believe their readers have a right, or a need to know. Government at every level, not merely the administration in Washington; police departments, for example can
always be counted upon to attempt to justify their unlawful activities and abuse of power in the name of public safety and security.
Today it’s the War On Terrorism. Thirty years ago, at the time of the Pentagon Papers, it was the Vietnam War. And, thirty years before that, it was the unlawful internment of Japanese-Americans during World War
II. The simple fact is that no enemy of the United States, Japanese, North Vietnamese, or Muslim Terrorist, should ever be vested with the power to deny American citizens their Constitutionally guaranteed right to know, by a free press that would culpably conspire to conceal the unlawful activities of their own government in the name of loyalty or patriotism.