The News Media and Secrecy


Currently Frontline on PBS is in the middle of a four part series about the current state of the news media in our country. I highly recommend it. Last night’s episode focused on the relationship of the current “war on terror” and the right of the media to reveal information about government programs which search for information.

Just this week we discovered from the news media that all email messages sent by anyone to anyone else, whether in this country or not, are subject to intercept and review by our government. We discovered that the major internet service providers, such as AT&T, are cooperating in this program by voluntarily routing all emails through a series of secret government facilities where they are screened before being sent to their intended recipient.

Last year we learned about government intercept programs for telephone calls, also secret until the N. Y. Times and Washington Post told us about them. The Administration sought to suppress this information and even threatened prosecution under the Espionage Act for those disseminating such classified information.

The justification for keeping these and other spying programs secret put forth by the administration is that to reveal them “gives aid and comfort to our enemies” and that “they are necessary to prevent future attacks.” Accepting the premise for the moment, there yet remains a larger issue – when and under what circumstances is the media justified in reporting on secret or classified government programs?

Past decisions by the Supreme Court seem to go in the direction of permitting the government to preventing the publication of such information only in the most exigent of circumstances. This is the doctrine of prior restraint under which a publication can almost never be stopped in advance, although prosecution afterwards is perfectly allowable. So the N.Y. Times could publish the Pentagon Papers yet be brought up on criminal charges after publication if the government so desired.

So far the Bush Administration has not sought by court action to apply a prior restraint to the disclosures of its “anti-terror” programs, ranging from the CIA rendition program to the phone and email tapping efforts. But should they even be threatening to punish after the fact, as they have done?

This administration has argued that the press is not one of the “checks and balances” in our system of government. They describe them as simply another commercial venture that does not deserve a special status when it comes to things such as revealing state secrets or protecting sources of information from legal scrutiny.

I would suggest that this reveals a great deal about the startling lack of understanding of what a free society and representative democracy actually is, despite their claims to bringing the very same to the rest of the world. A free, aggressive and unfettered press is more important than any other element of our society. The founders knew this well and enshrined it in the very first Amendment to the Constitution to make the matter abundantly clear. That anyone, much less the President fails to understand this is possibly the most frightening of all the scary characteristics of this gang.

By its very nature, a “war” against those who use the tactic of terror to press their issues or simply to harass us is a “war” without a discernable end. It is not like WW II which not only had a beginning but also an end point. Wars of that nature end when the enemy nation is defeated. This conflict against those who use terror against us will never end. There will always be someone using this kind of tactic, even if they are domestic rather than foreign.

So if we are to be governed by the “war” standard, we have just closed shop on our democracy and become a dictatorship in which only the government can make decisions about our privacy. We will never be permitted to keep anything from our masters because to do so is a threat to our “safety”. This is Orwellian in the extreme and insulting to anyone with a free bone in their body.

If we are to have any freedom at all we must always have the right to know about, debate and make decisions about any government program that impacts our personal lives in any way. It is our right as a citizen and there is never a justification for abrogating this right, at least absent “exigent circumstances.”

And there is that phrase again, the one that this administration contends has already come into existence because some idiots flew planes into buildings and killed Americans. If this is all it takes to be “exigent” we are in deep trouble. A common definition might be “Generally, an emergency, a pressing necessity, or a set of circumstances requiring immediate attention or swift action.” If this is a never ending war, the Administration’s reasoning is merely a cover up for a power grab of unprecedented dimension.

I would argue there should be neither prior restraint of such revelations nor subsequent prosecutions. In a free society, there are certain costs, sometimes very high, that must be borne by the people as a whole in order to preserve liberty. A free and unfettered press is one of them. It can result in greater danger to ourselves from real threats, it may result in real harm to our national interests. But anything less poses an even greater danger.

Any restrictions on the press, whether it by the N. Y. Times or Joe Blogger must be denied. It is our only hope of regaining control of our lives, our government and our freedom.

(Phil Hoskins is a Hollywood attorney who founded “Take Back West Hollywood.”)


  1. I watched Frontline and it was excellant. This administration is sneaky and underhanded we will be years finding out all they have done. And it will scare the hell out of us when we do.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush tries to enact some law that keeps him as president longer then 2008. Saying he is a war time president or some such bullshit. He doens’t want to leave. He is evil, he is surrounded by evil, and I think he is the anti-Christ.

  2. frank v

    Many of the major news/media corporations are corporate members of the Council on Foreign Relations – Time/Warner being one.

    They hire as their news anchors/political interviewers people like George Stephanopoulos, Barbara Walters, the late Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw etc – all members of the Council on Foreign Relations.

    These employees then ask ‘hard questions’ of their guests – fellow members of, yes – you guessed it – the Council on Foreign Relations.

    How very cosy. And how completely antithetical to the very notion of a free press. Wonder why there is no serious discussion about the North American Union? Care to guess which policy think tank is responsible for its architecture?

    If this is of interest to you, here’s a good start:

  3. Teresa

    Bush doesn’t have the brains to be the “anti-christ”, even supposing their is such a thing. Cheney would qualify, I would think, for he gives the impression of a demon, for certain.

  4. Ray

    I wonder how long or if in fact ever, before americans see this conspiracy that is being enacted before our very eyes. There is not one aspect of government programs that are true in the sense of purpose or intention. The whole theme runs uncontrollably towards one outcome surely to result. We are destined to be captive, controlled, and the majority impoverished. The old adage of ” for the people, by the people” has long since been history. It is now “them and us”. The major player in the conspiracy of course is the media. How better to control opinion than to spin reality to whatever you want to feed the sheeples. If this were not true, why hasn’t any major media personality even question the obvious lies and coverups of major events that have led to the disregard of this countries doctrines? In a free and democratic society this is a must. Debating is basic to freedom. Hearing all sides and then acting upon decision and analysis of fact. A sure sign of Fascism or Communism, or totalorarism is censure of facts, removal of debate or discussion, disgracing, humiliating, slandering, and killing anyone who speaks out in disaggreement. Welcome to Amerika, the new dawning of the end.

  5. The mainstream media are basically propaganda outlets for the government/corporations. All that talk about a free press is meaningless because in fact the mainstream US media must stay within the bounds of various taboos. One cannot look to these media for frank and open discussion on politics on the crimes of our politicians or the utter corruption of our government. Gatekeepers (usually in the guise of “commentators”) installed across the political spectrum set forth the parameters of debate.

    With Dubya squatting in the WH and Hillary in the running, now would be a good time for the media to delve deeply into the sordid details of the Bush and Clinton crime families. But they won’t because they are only allowed to nibble around the edges of such stories. And in the end, the criminals get off scot free with millions in their pockets, and then do the lecture circuit to the applause of the uninformed US public. Why aren’t the media hounding them? Because it’s taboo! Where are the front-page stories telling how elites steal millions from American taxpayers? Why did the mainstream media help destroy Gary Webb? Where are the mainstream media stories about how madman Bush is kept drugged to control his wild mood swings? (This is the person with his finger on the nuclear button — is that not a big story?) And where are the mainstream media stories on 9/11? As with all other taboo areas, no serious journalism has ever been done in this area by the big media.

    Sorry to say, mainstream media “journalists” (pity them) are just a bunch of flunkies who copy the propaganda BS from government press kits and peddle it as “news.”

    The “free press” is just a myth taught to American kids in school, along with baloney about freedom and democracy. Is it any wonder that people turn to bloggers for their news and opinion?

  6. […] The News Media and SecrecyCapitol Hill Blue – There are too many people out there who are willing to believe what comes from what they believe to be credible sources – you know Dubya, Dick, and their buddies. It s a slight of hand show – make the masses pay attention to the right hand […]

  7. Glenn

    The corporate media are just huge corporations that are owned and controlled by wealthy CEO’s. They promote the interests of corporations, wealthy elite’s and the Military Corporate Empire. When they get alarmed about an administration going to far we should take not take the their concerns lightly.

    The Net and Bloggers finally leveled the playing ground, which is why they are trying to monitor and control it. I believe the Net was the biggest factor in exposing the lies about the failure of the Iraq War and organizing people.

    The founders of this country did realize that without a free press corruption, patronage and power will eventually undermine a country from within and enslave it’s citizens. The Soviet Union was a good example of that.

    We need to get control of government and elect candidates who represent the people and not the bidding of their corporate masters. We don’t need big brother but a change of polices from war, greed, exploitation and imperialism to cooperation and peace.

  8. Disappointed Ol' Hippie

    Fortunately/unfortunately, the Bill of Rights gives use free speech – but it doesn’t say that what is spewed out has to be the truth. There is a controlled “message of the day” that flows from the big house in Washington – and that message is controlled by a conglomerate of a few members of the 1% of the population in the US that holds the majority of the wealth. They are protecting their wallets.

    Are we being spied on by our government – yep. And it isn’t something new. I’ve had an FBI file since at least the early 70’s. I don’t give a rat’s rectum if they are listening, watching, etc. I know what my truth is and that is what we all need to know and trust.

    Do I watch the “awe struck” tradgies – sometimes? Look at what is in the news and has been for weeks that leads the stories – Anna Nicole Smith “freaky side show” (Diane Sawyer just labeled this event as the first “story” of Good Morning America’s beginning.) What’s wrong with that picture?

    There are too many people out there who are willing to believe what comes from what they believe to be “credible” sources – you know Dubya, Dick, and their buddies. It’s a slight of hand show – make the masses pay attention to the right hand so they don’t see what we are doing with the left hand that is not in their best interest.

    The issue of free speech is a slippery slope. To make us free to speak our opinions here or elsewhere, we unfortunately have to listen to the clowns, liars, and idiots.

    We just need to know the difference between “structured reality” that is part of the “message of the day” and what is really happening. Until the majority of the population chooses to discern what is real and not real, unfortunately they will continue to support people like the nut case running this country.

    The best “news” story that has surfaced overnight is the new total body scanning machine to use at airports (and who knows where else). You will have two choices at the airport if you fail the regular “metal detector” thing. This new total body thing (it blurs out “private” parts) or a pat down/strip search. Imagine what the folks in charge who get to stand and watch the passengers “total body scan” will get a glimpse of. Thanks, but I think I’ll drive or just not go anywhere.

    Just keep singing this song and encourage others to join in with you:

    There’s something happening here

    What it is ain’t exactly clear

    There’s a man with a gun over there

    Telling me I got to beware

    I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound

    Everybody look what’s going down

    There’s battle lines being drawn

    Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

    Young people speaking their minds

    Getting so much resistance from behind

    I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound

    Everybody look what’s going down

    What a field-day for the heat

    A thousand people in the street

    Singing songs and carrying signs

    Mostly say, hooray for our side

    It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound

    Everybody look what’s going down

    Paranoia strikes deep

    Into your life it will creep

    It starts when you’re always afraid

    You step out of line, the man come and take you away

    We better stop, hey, what’s that sound

    Everybody look what’s going down

    Stop, hey, what’s that sound

    Everybody look what’s going down

    Stop, now, what’s that sound

    Everybody look what’s going down

    Stop, children, what’s that sound

    Everybody look what’s going down

    Artist: Buffalo Springfield Lyrics

    Song: For What It’s Worth Lyrics

  9. I agree Phil. The only way to restore our freedoms in America might just be up to the bloggers. Our MSM is still running on popularity numbers and if they fall even 2 points, the news will change their stand on many items of our daily lives.

    We all tend to lean into news stories that somehow cement what we had hoped were just conspiracy rumors. Thinking, reading and researching facts is important to all of us even if they prove to be false. I think all of us, especially here at CHB, are able to decide what looks like the truth and if we are wrong, retract our statements. What we should never do is to sit back and follow only the big print and loud noises coming from the MSM.

    Our government should be told to get out of our opinions and leave us the ability to stir some action in our readers.

    I believe it was the bloggers who changed the focus of the November election. We made it known that many of us did not trust the Bush Administration’s decisions in Iraq. There is an element of no-war group that probably despised out going into Afghanistan but we all got upset when we went into Iraq from day one.

    We must continue to express our opinions as it is part of our First Amendment Rights.

  10. Crook media chooses and opens the gates for a lower middle class public to run through. “Professionalism” is just a cover for opportunism. Thank God for the net and the bloggers.

  11. long_rider

    This seems to paint a “poor press” picture, when this is not the case at all.

    The press is very selective in the stories they present, this is not a free press, this is a press that does the bidding of the White house, and their corp. owners.

    The American press covers/reports very little about the important news, they seem to have an affinity for the Hollywood scene, reporting every little thing a Hollywood star does.

    There is a vast amount of important news that never gets reported, for what ever reason, and this is what our free press has eroded to. The American people now days would not know real news from commentary (most of our so called news is commentary). The moment a news reporter says “I” the news ends, and editorial (commentary) begins. News reporters don not make news, they report facts, this is seldom done anymore.

    The problem with going to the Internet for news is that it never reaches the American main stream. There is a news article about making it easier for the government to have the military combine forces with local and state police (martial law), the bill was passed, yet we never see one word of print about, this is an important event for every American, but our free press chooses to ignore it.

    I choose to view our free press as co-conspirators, along with the chimps administration, in the attempt to undo the constitution.

  12. moji byrd

    The main stream media quit writing the truth a long, long, time ago -why do you think their viewership and readership is falling at staggering rates, why do you think the government wants to implement internet2? When Murdoch is having lunch with Hillary on a weekly basis, do you think you are going to get an honest view about her in his media empire? No wonder the alternate media is thriving, and we need to keep it moving and make stronger.

  13. Ray

    The msm is definetly controlled. There is no doubt about it. All media except blogs are under tight restrictions. That is why you never see stories that express any views that differ from the government spin. There are no free lance writers anymore that tell opposing facts. If any try, they have a heart attack or are drummed out of business. Silenced, one way or another. Big Brother is here and at work in every aspect of our lives. They are very successful so far in creating a police state society all under the guise of terrorism. 99% fabrication. The plan is for a micro chipped slave society to work for the elites. Haven’t we seen the gap grow wider and wider. The rich get more and more, while the workers get screwed more and more. Soon cash will be a relic so every nickle can be accounted for electronically. You’ll never see any money, just debits from your allotment. Orwellien to the max. That is the grand scheme of the powers that be and the sooner people understand what is coming, the sooner we can resist and hopefully stop it. I’m afraid we have waited much too long because it is hard to organize resistance when everyone is strapped with huge debt therefore afraid to risk taking a stand. The shame of it is the fact that the deeper one becomes indebted they face even greater risk of loss. People are just ignoring the reality of this game, hoping it is just a bad dream and that somehow it will get better. I’m sorry, but it won’t get better untill the masses wake up and understand what is really going on in America. The country is in far worse shape than most realize. We are very near to a national crisis in more ways than imagineable but American Idol still rules for attention. If people don’t wise up now, this country is soon to be changed forever.

  14. Jennifer

    “an emergency, a pressing necessity or a set of circumstances requiring immediate attention or swift action”..Bush kept reading, Cheney went into hiding (what a pussy,he knows people here know and he was afraid, they would kill him), and in a no fly zone, Bush’s friends and business partners, the Bin Laden family was allowed to fly away, no questions asked.

    Most Americans don’t remember these facts or even know about the WTC7 being imploded, on 9/11, also!

    I gave a talk last night about the plight of my ancestors in the past and today and about current lies. A lady in the audience, said that she had lost her electricity for two days and it was horrible not having the conviences most are totally enslaved to today. I told her at the end of the talk, she’d better get use to it. She was awake enough to know, she had to learn to deal with the coming horrors coming upon us, thanks to this administrations controls upon us all and their desire to have us all under their thumb.

    Remember, Halliburton was giving the contract for more concentration camps being built in this US of them, there’s no more “A”-america. They killed it with the Patriot Act and invanding an innocent country, who never hurt us.

    Hopefully, last night some woke up to the TRUTHS of what is really happening now.

    THEY are reading our e-mails, listening to our phone conversations. I am not afraid of THEM, I know that they are scared of us that know the TRUTH,(WE can expose their evilness) and they are/will try to silence us. But listen…NEVER SHUT UP. KEEP TELLING ANYONE, WHO WILL LISTEN THE TRUTH!

    Like Gandhi said, “You can kill my body, but you can’t kill my spirit.”


  15. Our civil liberties will be saved from the over-reaching of the rights-be-damned Bushites by their sheer ineptitude.


    I’m reminded of George Carlin’s list of seven profanities you can never say on television.


    Now we can have a list of words for email and blogs that will tag your message for review by a human spooks, who will be paid good taxpayer dollars to waste their time.


    Of course they could then forward your name to the IRS for a tax audit which will be a hassle for you, but also a waste of time for the IRS because I assume most of us don’t cheat on our taxes.


    Meanwhile real terrorists will have the same list of no-no words with instructions not to use them, and to disquise nefarious messages to appear harmless.