Remembering the Fourth Amendment

When they're not fantasizing what to do to/with Ann Coulter, Left and Right increasingly attack the credibility and patriotism of mainstream news media. Given the news media's self-inflicted wounds,

Jan 4, 2006 at 2:06 pm

When they're not fantasizing what to do to/with Ann Coulter, Left and Right increasingly attack the credibility and patriotism of mainstream news media. Given the news media's self-inflicted wounds, they're easy targets, but don't forget what we learned from those same damnable, liberal corporate publications and broadcasters in recent days:

· The Washington Post exposed the gulag of secret U.S. overseas interrogation centers, even though it left it to others to identify them. The Post said it withheld locations at government request.

· The Los Angeles Times discovered the Army paying a contractor to bribe Iraqi journalists to plant pro-U.S. stories in Iraqi news media. The Times also enumerated serial cock-ups in U.S. mishandling of lies and fantasies from Curveball, the Iraqi defector whose "intelligence" was used by Bush and Powell to justify the war.

· The New York Times ignored Bush's arm-twisting and finally revealed warrantless domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA), while telling us it deleted information editors feared would help terrorists. The Times also provided an unsettling insight into how a youngster was lured into Internet porn.

· Finally, someone examined Roselawn's 377th Military Police Co., roiled by charges of Afghan detainee abuse. Associated Press' Terry Kinney wrote it; The Cincinnati Enquirer put it on a Sunday page 1.

· On-the-scene deadline reporting by The Enquirer's Eileen Kelley provided essential facts and defused potential rumors after someone bombed the Clifton mosque.

· · ·

If The New York Times were as devoted to the Fourth Amendment as to the First, it might not have held its NSA eavesdropping story for more than a year. Reread the Bill of Rights. It protects us from government, not vice versa. The Fourth Amendment says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."

Diminished by Congress and courts, the amendment remains relevant to royal prerogatives, whether exercised by George III's colonial spies and/or George II's electronic eavesdroppers.

In another era when no American was free from the threat of government spying, Damon Keith, a courageous federal trial judge in Detroit, barred Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell from wiretapping without a court order.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati — which Keith later joined — and the Supreme Court affirmed Keith's understanding of Fourth Amendment limits on real or imagined presidential power.

Curmudgeon notes
· Proof again that you don't have to be rich and powerful to do fine journalism: The National Press Foundation awarded its Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award to Ron Royhab, whose Toledo Blade staff broke the "Coingate" scandal that continues to roil Ohio Republican politics.

· Did local reporters miss — or ignore— the special faculty meeting in which a top university administrator explained an arrest report circulating on campus? She says a checkout lane misunderstanding escalated into a charge of switching prices on meat at a supermarket. Tristate news media had the same documents for weeks before that campus confrontation; again, nothing reported.

· Why didn't The New York Times and The Washington Post tell us about face-to-face White House efforts to kill the gulag and NSA spying stories?

· The Justice Department is investigating the leak to The New York Times about warrantless NSA spying rather than probing whether continuing NSA domestic spying — ordered and maintained by Bush — is illegal. As it was asserted during the Clinton impeachment, "high crimes and misdemeanors" are what the Senate says they are. And I wonder how snake-bit Timesmen will defend their reporters this time. Meanwhile, the Times and The Washington Post haven't come clean about reported face-to-face White House efforts to kill NSA and gulag stories.

· Republican U.S. representative Jean Schmidt's maiden Congressional tirade brought national attention to Cincinnatian Jim Schifrin's Whistleblower newsletter. The New York Times said Schifrin "rushed out a special I-told-you-so issue calling the speech 'vintage Jean Schmidt.' "

· Cincinnati Magazine belittles The Kentucky Post headline, "Murgatroyd still the go-to gay." Should have been "guy." Should have been ignored. The Post didn't carry the headline. Cincinnati Magazine correction says headline was lifted from Whistleblower's mix of fact and fantasy but never verified.

· Bush, at media-bashing press conference last month, says journalists undermined anti-terror efforts by reporting that the United States targeted Osama bin Laden through his use of a satellite phone. He's wrong again, The Washington Post says. The Taliban revealed bin Laden's use of a satellite phone in 1996; Time reported it about the same time, and bin Laden talked about it in at least one TV interview.

· The Pulitzer board changed its rules to allow online content in news entries. This accommodates The New Orleans Times-Picayune and others who covered last year's Gulf Coast disasters online after losing their presses to hurricanes and floods.

· The payoff from stories planted by the Army in Iraqi papers was to come when Americans accepted articles as genuine Iraqi opinion. Positive impact on Iraqis would have been a collateral benefit.

· Phony "war on Christmas" was invented by conservative commentators who need new targets to stoke audience ignorance, fear and anger. Where was mainstream news media's antidote of facts about church-state separation?

· Business Week Online caught Doug Bandow, a Copley News Service columnist and Libertarian Cato Institute senior scholar, taking secret payments from GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to promote interests of Abramoff's clients.

· The Enquirer, that rare daily to increase circulation in recent months, found yet another way to boost paid subscriptions: charge retirees for subscriptions. We'll pay the same reduced rate as active employees. Still a good deal.

· Paul Bernish, chief communication — public relations — officer at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, complained to CityBeat's Margo Pierce about questions for her recent story, saying, in part: "... We allowed you and a photographer to tour the museum free and unfettered." You have to admire Bernish's way with words; "free and unfettered" is a masterpiece of irony.

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.