The Gray Old Benedict Arnold?
By: J.J. Jackson
Question: If Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had started a newspaper and published the classified information they had acquired in that paper instead of passing it covertly to the Soviets would they still have been guilty of treason?
Tell you what, we will come back to that question a little later to give you a chance to think about it ok?
In the mean time, letâ€™s talk about the New York Times, which has once again raised some eyebrows. Within the past week the Times published information about a (by their own words) â€œsecretâ€ program known as SWIFT. SWIFT used a network to â€œfollow the moneyâ€ of terrorists and their backers around the world. It is also something the Times itself complained that the government should be doing shortly after the attacks of September 11th.
In the past it has been used successfully. However now the future use of this operation is in doubt.
I donâ€™t know what part of â€œclassifiedâ€ or â€œtop secretâ€ some in the entrenched bureaucracy donâ€™t seem to understand. But clearly we have some people whom, for whatever reason, think that they are the ones that chose what information is kept secret and what is disclosed.
The New York Times and other newspapers have been all too eager to take information from these rogue agents within our government and plaster it all over the pages they print. They do this to stir up anger over something they personally donâ€™t like, a desire for revenge over some perceived wrong doing, ego spite, or what have you. Editors around the nation seem to salivate at the thought of getting a scoop on some government program without asking first how disclosing such information would be harmful. But at the same time they are not ashamed to show false outrage over a non-leak of non-classified information (i.e. Valerie Plame) when it suits them.
Everyday I become more and more convinced that the people of this country know the lyrics of whatever song happens to be number one on the Billboard Charts better than those in our Constitution. Those words and their meaning are an enigma to most and as a whole are so often misquoted and taken out of context that it is a wonder that we continue to survive as a free Constitutional Republic. Heck some of you right now are scratching your heads saying â€œRepublic? I thought we were a Democracy?â€
And if you ask me which part of the Constitution is misquoted and misrepresented most often I would have to tell you the First Amendment.
The truth is we have known for some time that our government was tracking the funding of terrorists and watching their financial dealings to lead us to their agents in the field. The details however have been vague at best because to reveal too much would destroy the concept of a â€œsecretâ€ program. Think of it as similar to knowing that the military is in Iraq but not knowing that they were going to be transporting General Casey down main street Baghdad in the third vehicle of a 10 vehicle convoy at 5:00pm next Tuesday to pick up Usama bin Laden who is visiting an old high school friend. Imagine the outrage if that information was leaked by the Times putting our troops in danger and warning Usama to stay.
One thing is fairly certain and that is SWIFT will not be as successful as it was without some major retooling if not a complete rebuild from the ground up. And that knowledge has thrown some deserved scrutiny the way of the New York Times. That scrutiny has even manifested itself to the leveling of the not so subtle charge of treason against the paper and those that were involved on the claim that this act has given aid and comfort to our enemies.
Defenders of the Times are quick to yell â€œFreedom of the press! We have freedom of the press!â€ evoking the first amendment. Itâ€™s right there as plain as day they shout. And it is. Itâ€™s there right after freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
But, like I said, the Constitution is often misread. Is this â€œfreedomâ€ an absolute shield to not only say whatever you want but also be protected from the results of what oneâ€™s freedom brings?
The press is â€œfreeâ€ to print whatever it likes. But it is no more protected from the consequences of their actions than you would be if you stood on the corner pronouncing that you were going to murder your neighbor or that you were going to rob the bank across the street. If you did either of those acts you would be arrested regardless of your right to â€œfree speechâ€. And if you doubt that you would be then consider it your homework to go try it. I also dare say few Americans would have a problem with you being hauled off to jail.
Like you on the street corner, the press is free to publish whatever it wants in its pages. But again Iâ€™ll ask you the question I opened this article with. If the Rosenbergâ€™s were newspaper publishers would they have been free to blab their secrets? If by chance you were someone that was cheering for the Soviets in the Cold War against the evil, capitalist United States do not delude yourself into thinking that most people are sitting here right now nodding their heads along with you thinking that the Rosenbergs would not have still been traitors.
The answer is â€œnoâ€ they would not have been less guilty of treason.
So the question is not whether or not the Times had the right to publish the story but rather does the printing of the story rise up to the offense described in Article III of the Constitution as treason? Does the article provide â€œaid and comfortâ€ to Americanâ€™s enemies?
The First Amendment only says â€œCongressâ€ may not pass a law abridging the freedom of the press. But the Constitution is a higher authority stating itself â€œThis Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Landâ€. As such the Constitution itself sets the limit on the pressâ€™ â€œfreedomâ€.
Letâ€™s be clear. There is a world of difference between the New York Times publishing a story about egregious constitutional violations by our government and exposing a program that is used to defeat our enemies. Scratch that. I should say that there is a world of difference between the New York Times publishing a TRUE story about egregious constitutional violations by our government and exposing a program that is used to defeat our enemies. Letâ€™s not forget that the Times is not above making stuff up.
Has the New York Times committed treason? I think it merits a serious discussion and even a trial to find out. On the face of it there is certainly a case to be made that this information aids our enemies and gives them comfort to know that they can turn to the media to discover how we are fighting them.
Remember, Benedict Arnold practiced his â€œfreedomâ€ as well when he fled to aid the British in the American Revolution and was a traitor for it. Fortunately for him he escaped the gallows.
If those at the New York Times are found guilty of treason such a miscarriage of justice as that that eluded us in Mr. Arnoldâ€™s case should not happen again. They should hang right along side of those that leaked the information in the first place.
Thomas Jefferson once mused that â€œwere 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.â€ But he also knew that newspapers were not such great pillars of truth and virtue that they could not become corrupted stating â€œNothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.â€
J.J. Jackson is a libertarian conservative author from Pittsburgh, PA who has been writing and promoting individual liberty since 1993 and is President of Land of the Free Studios, Inc. He is the Pittsburgh Conservative Examiner for Examiner.com. He is also the owner of The Right Things - Conservative T-shirts & Gifts The Right Things. His weekly commentary along with exclusives not available anywhere else can be found at Liberty Reborn.